BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — On a night that featured several spectacular plays, an incompletion decided Traverse City Central's thrilling 48-47 double overtime win over Bay City Western in a Division 2 pre-district football clash at Thirlby Field.
Warriors quarterback Joe Ivan overthrew his receiver in the end zone on a two-point conversion try to give Central the win — and a date next weekend with either Midland or Marquette for the district title.
"For this program to be standing here on Thirlby Field after a playoff victory is a dream come true," Trojans coach Tom Passinault said as players, coaches and fans celebrated.
The Trojans (9-1) forced overtime when quarterback T.J. Schepperly sprinted 46 yards down the right sideline to score with 1:09 remaining. Jacob Gorter's extra point tied it.
Bay City Western, which just missed a 46-yard field goal as time expired, scored in the first overtime when Ivan just reached the pylon on a fourth down run from the 2.
The Trojans countered with Schepperly scoring on a nine-yard run.
Central went first in the second overtime and Nate Pupel took it in from the 7. Gorter's conversion made it 48-41.
The Warriors came right back when Ivan connected with Mason Myers for a score. Coach Bruce Mann elected to go for two points and the win. A pass interference call moved the ball inside the 2, but an illegal procedure pushed it back just past the 6. Still, the Warriors decided to go for two — and it backfired.
"That was way too close," Pupel said. "I think they knew it was going to go back and forth, back and forth, until somebody went for two. It needed to end sometime and I think they were ready to go for it."
Senior Weston deTar was on the coverage.
"They actually ran the same play twice in a row," he said. "I was called for pass interference on the first one and I didn't want to get called for it again."
His reaction when the pass sailed over the receiver's head?
"It was the happiest I've been in my football career," he said.
Schepperly was the field, too, inserted into the secondary.
"Thank God," he said when the pass fell incomplete. "That was the best feeling in the world."
Passinault was surprised the Warriors went for two, especially after the illegal procedure call.
"I think he (Mann) thought they might not stop us," he said. "We were hot. Pupel and Schepperly are tough. It was a gutsy call."
It ended an incredible seesaw contest that was filled with drama.
Down 17-10 at half — after Gorter booted a 46-yard field goal on the final play of the half — the Trojans tied the game on their opening possession of the third quarter when Pupel scored on a two-yard run. The 73-yard drive featured runs of 23 and 35 yards by Schepperly.
Central took its first lead of the night four minutes later when Gorter, following a deTar interception, nailed a 39-yard field goal.
It stayed that way until early in the fourth stanza when Ivan hooked up with Andrew Mudd from 23 yards out, putting the Warriors on top 24-20.
Schepperly quickly marched the Trojans back downfield. Pupel, filling in on offense for an injured T.J. Schwannecke, bounced it outside for a 38-yard to key the drive. That took it to the 5 and Schepperly carried it in two plays later as Central regained the lead.
That lead, though, lasted just over a minute as Ivan found Charles Proctor down the middle for a 64-yard scoring strike. Just like that, it was 31-27 Western.
The Warriors made it a seven-point game when Rob Vennix kicked a 34-yard field goal with 2:24 to go.
After a holding penalty on the return, the Trojans started their final drive at the 12 with 2:16 left and no timeouts. As it turned out, Central needed just over a minute. Schepperly broke a 25-yard run to start the drive. Two plays later, a pass interference call moved the ball to the Warriors 46. From there, Schepperly took it the distance down the right sideline on a quarterback draw.
"We ran that play a couple times and it was open both times," he said. "We hadn't run it in a while so we came back to it. It worked out perfectly. Everybody hit their blocks."
"That was the changer," Pupel added. "We know when Schep gets away he's gone. He has the speed. That's a play we were all confident about and we knew Schep would execute it. He did just what we thought."
Schepperly finished with 250 yards rushing. Pupel, who had three touchdowns, added 116 yards. Pupel took over when Schwannecke was injured early in the second quarter.
"Schwannecke's a key part of our offense," Passinault said. "We have so many plays that he's either a decoy or gets the ball. I struggled for awhile calling plays because I was thinking, 'Does Nate know these plays? It was challenge.
"But Pupel and Schepperly are All-State caliber players and they showed it tonight."
Pupel did know the plays, thanks to Thursday's practice.
"We were going over plays (on offense) and coach said to me, 'You need to pay attention,' Pupel recalled. "I love T.J. (Schwannecke) to death. It's horrible he got hurt. He'll be back. But all that was running through my head was power football. I ran as hard as I could and tried to get as many yards as I could."