Warren De La Salle scored every time it touched the ball in the first half, jumping out to a five-touchdown lead early and rolling to a 41-14 victory over Traverse City Central in the Michigan high school football Division 2 state championship at Ford Field.
De La Salle — averaging just shy of 40 points per game — was in gear from the get-go. The Pilots (13-0) took the opening kickoff and marched downfield on a 13-play, 80-yard drive which resulted in the game’s first score, a 1-yard plunge by Rhett Roeser. That was set up three plays earlier by a 31-yard keeper by quarterback Brady Drogosh, which set the ball at the Traverse City Central 3.
But the Pilots' defense wasn’t too shabby, either. It set the tone by forcing the Trojans into three-and-outs on all of their first-half possessions, allowing just two first downs and 36 total yards.
LIVE UPDATES FROM FORD FIELD: Follow along as the champions are crowned
THE PICKS: Son of Swami predicts every state final
DIVISION 8: Hudson outmuscles Beal City for title
After Central’s first punt, De La Salle mounted another five-minute scoring drive, traveling 62 yards in 12 plays. Drogosh hit Triston Nichols on a 20-yard scoring pass. Nichols, running a slant inside, beat the Trojan defender to the 50-50 ball and shook him off, rambling into the end zone untouched to make it 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter.
“Our first and second drives were extremely important for us, getting the defense off the field was extremely important for us, those third-down conversions were crucial for us,” Drogosh said. “We knew if we scored on those first two drives, we knew we would have a great chance.”
The tone was set for a good day for De La Salle.
Central (12-2) brought the ball to midfield on the ensuing possession, but came up two yards short on fourth-and-5, turning the ball over on downs at the De La Salle 49. But De La Salle jumped on the opportunity quickly — on second down, Drogosh hit the hole at right tackle, and took off on a 45-yard sprint to cross the goal line.
Drogosh, who was 14-for-17 attempts for 142 yards in the first half, threw another scoring pass to Nichols 24 seconds before halftime, spotting his receiver in the left side of the end zone.
But De La Salle didn’t take its foot off the gas. Just 10 seconds later, Devin Schmelter picked off a Josh Burnham pass at the Central 42 and returned it to the 24 with seven seconds left . That left Drogosh enough time to spot Alton McCullum, who hauled in a high throw and crossed over the goal line.
An unsportsmanlike conduct call pushed the extra-point attempt back to the 17, and that kick proved to be unsuccessful, leaving the score 34-0 at halftime and delaying the inevitable running clock. That eventually came with 1:54 remaining in the third quarter, after DeNiro Johnson ran it in from 1 yard out.
De La Salle coach Dan Rohn, who has now won five state titles (the first four with Grand Rapids West Catholic), said his No. 1-ranked team executed well and lived up to its potential.
“We felt we had an opportunity with this team, but we had to take what they gave us,” he said. “Brady distributed the ball really well. We grinded it out a little bit, we didn’t force it and try and get big plays. We had to be sure we stuck with the game plan. One of the goals that we had was to force them to play from behind.”
How dominant was De La Salle’s offense? The first time the Pilots turned the ball over on downs — which didn’t occur until 5 minutes remained in the third quarter — was due to a dropped fourth-down pass in the end zone by McCullum. But the Pilots got over it three plays later, when an interception by Jamari Allen gave De La Salle the ball at the 15, setting the stage for Johnson’s scoring run.
Central avoided the shutout with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, on a 5-yard run from Burnham and a 24-yard run from his backup, Josh Klug.
“De La Salle played a phenomenal game out there. They were a very physical team and they took it to us,” Central coach Eric Schugars said. “They did a good job, and we couldn’t get a break. We just couldn’t get anything going. That’s a credit to them, and the game plan they had to come at us.”
Drogosh finished with 174 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries. He only threw twice in the second half, with both falling incomplete, to finish 14-for-19 for 142 yards and three touchdowns passing. On the day, De La Salle outgained Traverse City Central 389-149 to win its first championship since 2018, and fourth overall.
“We lost last year in the finals, and it kind of left a little mark on us. We knew we weren’t ready. It was a great (Muskegon) Mona Shores team and we did some good things,” Rohn said. “Playing Traverse City Central and getting the opportunity to come back here and compete at the highest level was important, and that was a goal, but our goal was not to get back here. Our goal was to win, and it was awesome that we played so well and got off to a quick start.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan high school football D-2 final: De La Salle tops T.C. Central