EDWARDSBURG — Cadillac head football coach Cody Mallory knew his team faced an ocean’s worth of adversity when taking on No. 1-ranked Edwardsburg in the Division 4 state semifinals Saturday.
Mallory told his team to imagine being Vikings on a ship across the sea, who have already faced an arduous journey with a couple more storms to weather on their way to the ultimate prize.
Saturday’s storm was a battle with the Eddies after a three-hour journey and everyone counting the Vikings out before they touched the field. Cadillac came away victorious over the previously undefeated Eddies 28-26, using a goal-line stand in the final minute to seal the school’s inaugural trip to Ford Field for the state finals.
“We used the analogy of being on a ship and just the idea of holding fast,” Mallory said. “If you’re on that ship and a storm hits, you only have the people that are on there with you. Nobody’s coming to help you and and you can’t blink. You have to rely on each other to survive and you can’t tap out, it’s not an option. That’s the approach we took and they were able to execute that today.”
Execution of the Vikings’ game plan keyed the win over Edwardsburg, who had only lost one game since falling in the 2017 state final. Countering the Eddies’ wing-T offense with a grind-it-out running attack of their own, Cadillac was able to chew clock and put together long scoring drives that gave Edwardsburg limited time to come back from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter.
“This is unbelievable,” said Cadillac junior quarterback Aden Gurden. “I didn’t think walking into this game we would play as good as we did.
“This team is so determined. Going through this COVID stuff has been so insane and we stuck with it through it all and we knew what we had to do and we executed everything right.”
The Vikings used some of the momentum from the second half comeback victory over Forest Hills Eastern in the quarterfinal to start Saturday’s game. Cadillac was able to stop the powerful Eddies’ offense, which was averaging 49 points per game, on the opening drive with a stellar fourth down play at their own 37. Carter Harsh broke a big play for the Vikings on the ensuing drive to set them up in Eddies’ territory, injuring his knee on the play.
Gurden capped the opening possession for his team with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 36 seconds to play in the first quarter. The extra-point snap was bobbled but the time-consuming drive played into the game plan, giving Edwardsburg only one offensive possession in the first quarter. The Vikings led by six for only a couple of minutes before Ethan Cebra broke off a 37-yard touchdown run to knot it at six after a failed two-point rushing attempt.
As more time ticked off the clock, the Eddies managed to stifle an attempted halfback pass on fourth down that nearly gave the Vikings back-to-back scores on a defense that did not allow more than 16 points in a game this season. Edwardsburg turned around for another signature drive that ended with a short run from Logan McColley to give them the only lead they would have Saturday, a 14-6 tally.
“I think Cadillac came down and they just had a tremendous game plan and they were very physical,” said Eddies head coach Kevin Bartz. “They’re the most physical team we’ve seen all year and that’s kind of where we’ve been able to handle teams. I thought they did a great job of stymieing both sides of the ball.”
The Vikings answered quickly with another touchdown from Gurden, this time an 18-yard scamper on an option keeper to make the score 14-12 with only 50 seconds until halftime.
Cadillac received the ball in the second half and took the opening drive 75-yards to paydirt. Kaleb McKinley plowed through the Eddies line for the first of two touchdowns he scored in the half to give the Vikings a 20-14 lead. The nearly seven-minute drive set the stage for the Vikings defense to put the pressure on the opposing offense.
The Eddies were stymied near midfield and attempted a rare pass play that was stopped by Jakin Metzger and Teegan Baker. Mallory sent his team on another five-minute drive capped by the second McKinley touchdown from 1 yard, giving Cadillac a 28-14 lead with only 8:21 to play.
“I thought our defense played great; these guys averaged 50-something points a game and I am extremely proud of all aspects of our game,” Mallory said. “We knew in order to win this game we were going to have to chew the clock and we were able to do that. They had four first half possessions and not many more in the second.”
Edwardsburg began turning up the heat and got first downs on each of the first three plays on the ensuing drive, scoring six plays later to bring the score to 28-20. The Vikings stuffed another two-point conversion to keep the eight-point lead and force the Eddies to onside kick. The Vikings recovered, but were forced to punt three plays later for the first time in the game.
A short punt set the Eddies up at the 48-yard line with just over three minutes to play and the Cadillac defense remembered what Mallory told them — they needed to rely on each other to survive.
“It was scary, all we were thinking was we had to stop them there and it was over,” said Gurden. “But we didn’t, so all we had to do was stop them on the two (point conversion).”
Jackson Hoover scored for Edwardsburg from 16 yards out with 56 seconds left in the game but the Vikings stuffed a third two-point conversion to hold onto the 28-26 lead.
“I don’t think anybody gave us a shot here and our guys took pride in that and used that a little bit,” Mallory said. “For them to come out and play the game the way they did today I am extremely proud of them.”
Gurden and McKinley each totaled two touchdowns, splitting the scoring duties in each half. Gurden ran for 67 yards and completed two passes for another 66, each of which set up Viking touchdown. McKinley led the rushing attack with 75 yards, followed by Noah Cochrane with 60. Colin Hess and Collin Johnston were the recipients of Gurden’s 33-yard passes that moved the chains for Cadillac.
Johnston led the Vikings defense with 10 total tackles, followed closely by sophomores Keenan Suminski and Baker with nine each.
The Vikings will take on Detroit Country Day in the Division 4 state final Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Ford Field.