Defense leads Dowagiac to winPublished 4:55pm Sunday, November 6, 2011
If defense really does win championships, then look out Division 5.
A dominating performance by the Chieftain defense again Friday night led Dowagiac to its first district championship since 1996.
Dowagiac rolled out to a 35-0 lead at Chris Taylor-Alumni Field and never looked back in defeating Hopkins 42-13.
The win puts the nine-ranked Chieftains (10-1) into the Division 5 Regional title game Friday night against No. 1-ranked Lansing Catholic (11-0). Lansing Catholic defeated No. 3-ranked Portland 50-33 Friday night.
Dowagiac has counted on its defense all season to set the tone and Friday night was no different.
The Chieftains held the powerful Hopkins ground game to a mere 141 yards and forced the Vikings to throw the football, something they are not comfortable doing. As a result, Dowagiac picked off four Hopkins aerials. Todd McIntyre grabbed three of those interceptions to tie Lyle Nichols and Robbie Ferrier for the school record.
“We felt if we could get them out of their running game, we were going to have a lot of success,” Dowagiac coach Mike Stanger said. “When it comes to a double tight end full house Wing T, you don’t have a lot of flexibility.”
Turnovers in the passing game weren’t the only trouble Hopkins had with the Dowagiac defense. Carl Grant and Dontrell Tucker accounted for five of the Chieftains’ six sacks in the contest.
“It’s what we’ve done all year,” Dowagiac defensive coordinator Pat Lyle said. “We were great off the ball up front. The kids knew their assignments and made plays for us. It’s a double edged sword. Do you run at Tucker or do you run at Grant?”
A pair of Cal Cox quarterback sneaks staked Dowagiac to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter. When Derek Stark scored from 7-yards out, it was 20-0 following a missed extra point.
The Chieftains weren’t done offensively just yet. Cox connected on the first of his two touchdown passes as he hit Brendon Murray with a swing pass and Murray rumbled 58 yards to the end zone, breaking a tackle at the 40-yard line to make it 27-0 at the half.
Things didn’t get any better for Hopkins in the second half, although they were able to move the ball some with their passing game. In fact, the Vikings only lost the second half in the scoring column 15-13.
But both of Hopkins’ scores came after it was down 35-0 and Dowagiac was substituting freely by that point.
The Chieftains scored a touchdown in each of the final two quarters.
Cox connected with Dontel Highsmith for a 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter took make it 35-0 following McIntyre’s 2-point conversion run to bring the mercy rule into play.
The Vikings (7-4) finally got on the scoreboard in the final quarter when Blake Kraft took a pass from Mitchell Pavlak and scored from 30 yards out to cut the lead to 35-7.
It was only fitting that the final score of the night could come on defense for the Chieftains.
Pavlak was sacked for the sixth and final time causing a fumble, which was picked up by Sam Courtney and returned 30 yards for a touchdown.
With the field completely filled with reserves for Dowagiac, Hopkins put up one more score as Dylan Williams hauled in a 46-yard touchdown toss from Pavlak to cap the scoring.
Although it is known primarily as a running team, the Chieftains showed great balance against the Vikings. Dowagiac rushed for 150 yards and threw for 149. Cox and Brett Scanlon combined to go 5-of-8 in the passing department.
Hopkins actually finished with more total yards than Dowagiac, 347-299, but most of those yards came late in the contest against the Chieftains’ reserves.
Dowagiac played its first game without leading rusher and tackler D.J. Hunt, who will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a broken leg in the opening round of the playoffs.
“They dedicated the game to D.J,” Stanger said. “It provided the kids with a lot of motivation. He was such a great leader this week. He had surgery on Tuesday and was back at practice to help on Wednesday. The kids really came to play tonight. They were disciplined and really played for each other.”
Hopkins 0 0 0 13 – 13
Dowagiac 7 20 8 7 – 42
D – Cal Cox 1 run (Brett Scanlon kick)
D – Cox 2 run (Scanlon kick)
D – Derek Stark 7 run (kick wide)
D – Brendon Murray 58 pass from Cox (Scanlon kick)
D – Dontel Highsmith 47 pass from Cox (Todd McIntyre run)
H – Blake Kraft 30 pass from Mitchell Pavlak (Keara Kilbane kick)
D – Samuel Courtney 30 fumble return (Scanlon kick)
H – Dylan Williams 46 pass from Pavlak (kick failed)