BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City West's defense surrendered 56 points in a loss to Ogemaw Heights last week.
The Titans responded by holding Adrian without a first down for the entire third quarter on Friday in a 44-13 victory to clinch a playoff berth.
"It can't be any better that this," senior defensive end Collin Bush said. "We're going to the playoffs."
West (6-3) appears headed for another postseason clash with Division 1 powerhouse Rockford (7-2).
"Now you just let it all hang out," Titans coach Tim Wooer said. "You know you're going to be an underdog. But it's anybody's game. Maybe in years past, I think we might have been worried about the aura of Rockford. But we've got good, mature leaders in our senior class. We'll find out. I don't know if we're good enough athletically or football-wise to play at that level, but I always love going down there."
Adrian had just six first downs in the second half, most after the game was essentially decided and two of those by penalty.
"I think they got a little bit of a chewing at halftime from (defensive coordinator Jason) Morrow and they responded," Wooer said.
Speaking of penalties, the game was full of them. Thirty-three, in fact. Twenty of those went against Adrian.
"No, never," West linebacker Georden Carter said when asked if he'd ever seen that many penalties in a game. "A lot of unsportsmanlike conduct."
And a few questionable calls. One gave Adrian a touchdown as time expired to end the first half.
Maples running back Tony Mendez appeared to fumble as he crossed the goal line and no touchdown was signalled. With the clock on zeroes, West's Donny Cizek scooped up the ball and ran the length of the field. After conferring, the referees ruled it an Adrian touchdown.
"I saw the ball come out," Titans linebacker Derrick Diver said.
A bad snap on the extra point prevented Adrian from tying the game, and Dustin Tucker picked off a desperation throw that left it at 14-13 at the half.
The Titans scored on their first four possessions of the second half to take control. Meanwhile, the defense held Adrian to three-and-outs on its first three drives of the half.
"We stopped their passing game," Bush said. "In the second half, we did a lot better there. We cut them off up the middle and outside on their runs. We got the linebackers in there, pressure from the outside and forced them to throw early sometimes.
Carter and Jordan Stevenson led West's defense with nine tackles each, James Peck eight and Diver and Bush seven each.
Tucker scored his second touchdown on a 24-yard pass from Cizek on West's initial second-half drive, and then Griffin Forrester put the Titans up 30-13 with a terrific catch in which he got one hand on the ball in the end zone and tipped it up in the air to himself.
"He kind of let up on that route a bit and that put him in that predicament," Wooer said. "Then he had to make a great play — and he did. It's a different game when you have Griffin and Donny, and they both had phenomenal games."
Cizek was 14 of 21 for 196 yards and four touchdowns. Carter had three catches for 58 yards — all in the second half — as seven different receivers caught a pass.
"Our offensive line did a nice job," Wooer said. "There were some times where we just pounded the football. You get that confidence going where you can call just about any play out of the (Wing-T) and it's going to be a positive play."
Forrester led a West rushing attack that had nine different ball carriers, gaining 85 yards on 18 attempts and outrushing Adrian 223-85. Overall, West outgained the Maples 419-264.
West tacked on two more scoring drives — finishing with a 1-yard TD pass to Kevin Brefka and a Noah Malaski 38-yard scoring run — for the final margin of 44-13.
"We had great pass coverage defense," Carter said. "They couldn't pass the ball a lot on us. And on offense, we ran the ball really well. Our linemen did great and blocked really well."
Adrian led 7-0 after scoring on its second drive that ended in a Hunter Hayes 9-yard touchdown run and a Rebecca Miller extra point.
West responded with a 15-play drive that was extended by a roughing the punter penalty and resulted in a 14-yard TD pass from Cizek to Tucker.
The Maples (3-6) came back with a 15-play drive, but that ended with a Tyler Johnson interception near the goal line and eight plays later, West had its first lead of the game on a Forrester 19-yard touchdown run.
Adrian utilizes a wide-open passing attack, but ended with fewer passing yards (179) than West (196).
"It was different, but it was a lot more fun," Diver said. "Pass rush all the time is a lot of fun."
"That's the type of kids we've got," Wooer said. "We've got eight seniors on defense, and that's what we're capable of. So it's good to see they came through."