BY DAN CHALK
Special to the Record-Eagle
MIDLAND — Midland High quarterback Alec Johnson was a force for the Chemics on Friday night, while Traverse City Central quarterback T.J. Schepperly was the focus of a determined Midland defense.
Johnson threw for 281 yards — 263 in the first half — and Midland's defense contained Schepperly on the way to a 28-16 victory over the Trojans on a chilly night at Midland Stadium, giving the Chemics their first Division 2 district title since 2009.
No. 1 Midland (11-0) will host No. 3 Muskegon (10-1) next Saturday in the regional final. The Big Reds beat Lowell 15-13 on Friday.
The Chemics took to the air in the first half to build a 21-7 halftime lead, and their defense made big plays throughout the game to keep the Trojans at bay.
"Defensively we did a fabulous job against their quarterback," Midland coach Eric Methner said. "Our perimeter guys did a great job of bottling him up."
Trojans' coach Tom Passinault praised his team, which had earned the school's first playoff win since Traverse City split into two high schools in 1997.
"I'm really proud of the guys," he said. "We battled the whole year, and tonight was another example of that."
Schepperly, a senior, threw for 157 yards and a touchdown, but on the ground, where he is a threat to break off big runs, he had only 12 yards on 16 carries.
"They did a heck of a job on Schepperly," said Passinault, whose team finished 9-2 after beating Bay City Western 48-47 in double overtime last week.
Trojans' punter Nate Pupel pinned the Chemics down at their own 1 with a 77-yard punt in the first quarter. But two players, Alec Johnson found Thomas Smith in the right flat for a 95-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead with 7: 11 left.
After Midland turned it over on downs later in the quarter, Schepperly threw a 67-yard TD pass to T.J. Schwannecke on the next play to tie the game.
Midway through the second quarter, the Chemics drove 42 yards and scored on Johnson's 2-yard run for a 14-7 lead.
Midland forced a quick punt and then drove 86 yards in only five plays and scored on Johnson's 48-yard TD pass to Singer for a 21-7 lead with 2:24 left in the half.
After another quick Trojans' punt, the Chemics drove down to the TCC 20 and Singer missed a 37-yard field goal wide left on the last play of the half.
Midland had 351 yards of offense in the first half, including 263 passing yards by Johnson, while the Trojans had only 103 yards of offense, 67 of which came on the TD pass to Schwannecke.
Schwannecke, however, returned the second-half kickoff 61 yards to the Midland 24, and Jake Gorter kicked a 26-yard field goal to cut the Chemics' lead to 21-10 with 8:17 left in the third quarter.
On the Trojans' next drive, Singer broke up a pass on fourth down deep in Midland territory to halt the drive.
But three plays later, the Trojans' Pupel recovered a fumble by Travis Patten at the Midland 48. The Trojans cashed in, converting a fourth and 5 and eventually scoring on Pupel's 10-yard run to make it 21-16 with 10:12 left in the fourth. Schepperly's 2-point pass was incomplete.
But Patten atoned for his fumble on the next play from scrimmage, running 80 yards to the end zone to make it 28-16 with 9:51 left.
"We had a couple of chances in the second half, but they kept ripping off big plays at the right times," Passinault said.
Central then drove deep into Midland territory again, but the drive ended when Johnson intercepted Schepperly at the 3 with 7:04 left.
Midland eventually had to punt, but they sealed the win when Michael Wright recovered a fumble by Schepperly at the Trojans' 16.
"Nobody wants to lose, but I'm really proud of our team," Passinault said. "Where we've come from six years ago (as a program is remarkable). Now we've got to maintain that high level."
Schwannecke had two catches for 97 yards and a TD for the Trojans, and Pupel had 15 carries for 84 yards and a TD.