Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports

October 23, 2010

Titans rally in thriller vs. Trojans

TRAVERSE CITY — With everything on the line, Traverse City West lined 'em up and ran it right at Traverse City Central.

The Titans won a shootout — with a series-record 93 points — by taking a 51-42 decision from the rival Trojans on Friday night at Thirlby Field.

"It feels great," said running back Ronnie Saunders, who gained 110 yards on the ground for the Titans in just 16 carries. "I played at Central last year and it felt good, but West is a totally different thing. We're actually a family over at West. It feels so great holding this trophy and going to the playoffs."

Morgan Tolle scored a pair of touchdowns on only four carries in his final Central-West game. The Titans fullback/linebacker plowed in for a 7-yard score with 1:24 left to essentially lock it up for West.

Two plays later, Matt Beem recovered a fumble at Central's 19 and West knelt on the ball twice to run the clock out.

The win meant so many things for West.

First, it ended a two-game losing streak at the hands of their rivals — the first time Central had won consecutive crosstown games.

It clinched a playoff spot, where West will likely travel to either Rockford or Grand Haven next week.

The win gave the Titans a share of the Big North Conference title along with Petoskey — West's 10 Big North Conference title since 1997.

And it avenged last year's loss that gave the Titans their first-ever losing season.

"What a redemption," defensive end Jake Fisher said. "It feels really good."

At 6-3, West is in the playoffs, while Central (5-4) will have to wait until Sunday's playoff selection show to see if it can sneak in with five wins for the second time in three years.

Regardless, it's just the sixth time since the school split in 1997 that both teams have ended the regular season over .500.

"That trophy represents a couple things," West coach Tim Wooer said of the Olson-Nowak Memorial Trophy that West players hoisted for the first time in three years. "It represents the rivalry between Central and West and the Big North Conference championship. And it represents the chance for our kids to move on in the playoffs and take a shot at one of the toughest teams in the state. We know we're probably going to get Rockford. And one of these days, Traverse City West is going to beat Rockford. It might be this year, it might be five years, it might be 15 years, but it's going to happen. If you're going to be (happy) with just beating Traverse City Central, you're never going to beat Rockford."

The Titans didn't punt in the entire second half, scoring four touchdowns and fumbling twice on six possessions before kneeling on the ball.

"I told our kids, 'If we don't punt, we can't lose,'" Wooer said. "I told (the linemen), 'The game is on your shoulders. This is why you lifted all those weights, why you did all those things. Offensive linemen don't get an opportunity all the time to win football games — and you have a chance tonight to win this football game. I don't care if they put 10 men in the box or if they put 15 on the field, we're going to run the football.'"

After both teams traded punches in the first half, Central punctuated the first 24 minutes with yet another gadget play — this time faking a kneel-down by Mack Sovereign, who then lofted a long pass that Joe Prokes got under and raced 7- yards for a 28-21 halftime advantage.

"We call that play 'Dolphins,'" said Central quarterback Mack Sovereign, who threw for 295 yards. "It's a reference to Dan Marino when he ran a fake spike. Cadillac ran that against us and we liked it, so we put it in our playbook. And Joe Prokes made a nice play."

"We weren't ready for that," Saunders said of Sovereign's fake.

Central used trick plays early and often, going for an on-side kick on the game's opening kickoff. After West mishandled it, the ball rolled out of bounds.

"It's a kick that we've used quite a bit," Central coach Tom Passinault said. "We look to see if there's an open area and then kick the ball to the vacant area."

"We watched them on film and knew they liked to on-side kick," West quarterback Brett Kenny said. "Last year in the Central-West game, they did an on-side kick on us and we had a turnover and it was pretty much the turning point of the game."

After going up 14-7 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Dylan Roe, the Trojans went back to the well again, trying another on-side kick. This one was recovered by West's Zeke Famiano.

"We've seen that in our scouting," Wooer said. "I don't think our kids handled it too well. But they lobbed and squibbed and we didn't handle the ball in space very well. On the other side, our kicking game did a pretty good job, too."

West's turned the tables and opened the second half with an on-side kick of its own, with Dee Kirksey emerging from a pile with the ball.

"It was an audible," Wooer said. "He looked at me, and it was either going to be a squib or an on-side. As explosive as they are on offense, you have to take chances like that. That was a momentum swing."

The following Titan drive ended in a Saunders fumble, but he would atone for it.

"He's a tough kid," Wooer said. "He was running north-south and getting his shoulders down. I like how he runs the football. He was really mad at himself for fumbling. At that point, he just needed a pat on the back and I said, 'You're going to get another chance.'"

After a Cody Scheuerman 27-yard rumble, Saunders powered in a two-point conversion to give West its first lead of the game, 29-28.

Central tried a third on-side kick in the fourth quarter, but Jacob Gorter's boot was just a few inches short of going 10 yards and the Titan set up shop at Central's 44. Ten plays later, Tolle's second touchdown finished off the scoring.

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