By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
SHELBY – All week heading into Saturday’s Division 6 regional title game, Shelby head coach Lorenzo Rodriguez had but one message for his Tigers: Don’t start
Perhaps it was Rodriguez’s constant reinforcement of that message, or the way the team had to fight against the tide in the first half of the past three games.
Or maybe it was the video Rodriguez showed his team’s leaders prior to the game, featuring retired professional football players Michael Irvin and Ray Lewis with the theme of not wasting a second.
Whatever it was, consider the message received.
The Tigers were unstoppable in the first half, running up a 20-0 first-quarter lead en route to the 33-7 victory to nab the program’s second-consecutive regional crown.
The Tigers (11-1) move on to face Clinton (12-0), which dominated Constantine 47-28 in its regional title game.
Ithaca (12-0) and Montrose Hill-McCloy (12-0) are set to play in the other state semifinal game.
“It played into our hands with a couple turnovers early,” said Rodriguez. “But offensively, we were firing off the ball, we were making contact with the right people at the right time, and we were able to move the ball down the field pretty systematically.”
The most systematic of them all was Shelby senior back Devin Mussell, who had the game of his life, ringing up five scores on a game-high 148 rushing yards, to propel the Tiger offense toward victory.
“Our offensive line was awesome,” said a modest Mussell. “I have to give them credit.”
“I’ll tell you what, that kid is quite an athlete,” said Rodriguez of Mussell. “At the start of the year we were wondering if he’d get enough touches and now he’s run over 1,000 yards. He’s a definitely a high-caliber kid, and we’re going to ride him. The thing is you can’t gang up on him because we got Tony Guerro, who can take it to the house at any given time. Then you’ve got our interior runner, Forrest Courtright, who we tossed the ball to on some sprint sets there, so he showed he can hit the edge, too. You pick their poison with those guys.”
Guerra totaled rushing 140 yards and Courtright added 53 more tough yards to help the Tigers to 367 rushing yards.
“There were guys everywhere,” said Courtright, who was the obvious focal point of the Schoolcraft defenders. “It’s something where you just have to push through it, get what I can get”
It was Mussell who benefited from the inattention, opening the scoring with a 10-yard run to cap a nine-play drive for Shelby to open the game.
Shelby’s Brody Lee blocked Schoolcraft’s punt on the subsequent possession, and Mussell promptly ran it in from 23 yards out on the next play to put the Tigers up 14-0.
Dylan Unger recovered the ensuing kickoff, a squib kick that trickled off an Eagle player which Unger devoured the moment it rattled loose.
Taking over at the Schoolcraft 40, Guerra took it down to the Eagle 11, and Mussell took it the rest of the way to give his team the 20-0 lead (the PAT was blocked).
“We were down 20-0 before we could even respond,” said Schoolcraft head coach Terry Haas, whose team last week won the program’s first district title in 13 years. “I think they were just physically bigger than us on the line of scrimmage; we just couldn’t get anything going offensively. But if we don’t give them that first 20 points, it’s a 13-7 game.”
The Eagles looked to get back in the game when senior returner Brennan Vaughn returned a punt 50 yards to the house to provide Schoolcraft a ray of hope.
Schoolcraft’s good feelings were shortlived, however, as Mussell scored midway through the second on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to make it 26-7.
“All summer long, we work on every defense we think we’re going to see,” said offensive and defensive lineman Graham Herin. “(Schoolcraft’s) 4-2 (defense), we work on the 4-3. The offseason really prepares us, and then we bring it. That’s the way we do it. We take it to them.”
The Tiger defense held the Eagles to just 42 rushing yards (74 yards of total offense) led by Courtright’s seven-tackle effort.
Mussell added an 11-yard score midway through the third quarter to provide the final result.
Now the Tigers move on to their second state semifinal in as many years.
“They have three cats who can run,” Rodriguez said of Clinton, “and they have a quarterback back there who can sling the rock. Hopefully we match up well with them. We will watch the film and start making up a game plan.”
“It feels amazing,” said Courtright about the win. “Making it to the state semifinal game two years of my varsity career; it’s the best feeling ever.”
“It’s amazing,” said Mussell. “It’s the first time we’ve ever hosted three playoff games, first time we’ve won two regional championships.”
Will distractions this late in the season be a problem? Herin said no way.
“Keep your eye on the prize,” said Herin. “Keep pushing, keep going, you know, do what we can do. Everybody has to do their job and we’ll come out all right.”