TRAVERSE CITY — The beginning of Friday night looked a lot different than the end of it for the Traverse City West Titans football team.
On the first play from scrimmage at Thirlby Field, Grand Haven’s Connor Worthington went untouched for a 71-yard rushing score to put the Titans in a hole only 16 seconds into the game.
The other 47 minutes? The Titans owned every single one.
TC West took down Grand Haven 19-7 to reclaim The Coast Guard Cup and earn their first win of the 2019 season.
“I believe in our kids and I believe in our coaches,” Titans second-year head coach Greg Vaughan said. “I’ve been a part of teams that let teams score first and then came back and won big games. I know our coaches are going to figure it out. I know our players are going to work through it. They might get us once but in this game our coaches were able to get our defense taken care of.”
The Titans (1-1) dominated in every facet of the game following the opening possession, scoring on the ground, scoring through the air and allowing only three more first downs the rest of the way on defense.
Grand Haven (1-1) looked to have the upper hand early with Worthington, who is 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds, bulling his way through the line and putting TC West on their heels. That changed quickly.
“They obviously fixed what they didn’t have right at the beginning and they just put a lot of pressure on us,” Grand Haven head coach Joe Nelson said. “We didn’t have an answer. We hurt ourselves with penalties whenever we tried to get momentum going again. Short fields and special teams mistakes, can’t help. We just kind of fell apart.”
There were a host of moments that the Titans had to capitalize on to come out on top and they made the most of their opportunities.
After a failed attempt on fourth down with a yard to go, the Titans forced a three-and-out and Josh Tanis got a finger on the ensuing punt. The Titans started at the Buccaneers 23 and Aiden Griggs finished it off with a three-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
“We just weren’t ready (at the start), but after that we were dialed in and it showed,” Griggs said. “We came back and our energy, our enthusiasm and our student section wore them down.”
Vaughan and the Titans began to play with an ultra-aggressive mindset. They were set up with short fields from their defense and would not take no for an answer.
They went for it on fourth down several more times including the big play that put them up a score before halftime.
On fourth and 11, quarterback Andy Soma fired a laser to the middle part of the field, finding Griggs on a skinny post between the safeties for a 32-yard score only 1 minute, 4 seconds before halftime.
“To me, it’s a mentality thing,” Vaughan said. “You look at our first game, and we went for it on that first series on fourth down, and I’m going to continue to challenge our guys. We have a lot of linemen just going one way and they’ve got to start to take over in those situations. Long term for the season, they need to understand that. I believe in our kids, I believe our kids can accomplish those things. So we’re going to put them in those situations.”
The Titans responded to their coach’s challenges time and time again. Griggs snagged an interception to stop the Buccaneers attempt to score before half and the rest of TC West’s defense followed suit.
They did not allow a first down in the third quarter and turned up the heat even more in the fourth.
Christian Boivin blocked a punt on Grand Haven’s first possession of the final quarter, leading to Patrick O’Connor’s four-yard touchdown run seven plays later. The Titans attempted a pass for a two-point conversion but failed, making the score 19-7.
“We’re aggressive and that’s the thing,” Vaughan said. “Our defenses is aggressive, our special teams are aggressive and now we’re trying to make our offense aggressive. And when you do that, and do that throughout a game, it puts people on their heels a little bit. And we know we need to we need to do that to compete against the best teams in the state, too.”
Griggs led the way with two total touchdowns and 82 total yards on offense, an interception and a bunch of punt return yards. Soma went 5-for-7 passing with 49 yards and Boivin added 58 yards on the ground.
“It’s that mentality that we’re better and we’re going to pound it and outwork the other team,” Griggs said.
His teammate and fellow captain Zac Tokie, who moved to left tackle from tight end in place of injured Daniel Rosa, said this game was a good showing of what the Titans try to do.
“That is just our mentality, we want to pound and ground our whole game,” he said. “We don’t want to back down. We don’t wanna be ran on, we want to run over every other team.”