By Andrew Johnson
MOUNT PLEASANT – Great teams find a way to get the big tasks done, even against the toughest of competition.
The Montague football squad is very much a great team, and proved it with a huge offensive drive against previously undefeated Traverse City St. Francis on Saturday.
Facing a 7-6 deficit, the Wildcats started the fourth quarter with the ball in very tough field position, on their own seven-yard line.
But over the next 12 plays, which included eight runs by senior Bryce Stark, the Wildcats focused and marched 93 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Senior Sebastian Archer capped off the drive with a 14-yard rushing touchdown, followed by a successful two-point conversion pass from quarterback Drew Collins to Nick Stever.
Suddenly Montague had the lead and held on for a thrilling 14-7 victory in the Division 6 state semifinals at Mount Pleasant Community Stadium.
The Wildcats are now one win away from a Division 6 state title. They’ll take on Jackson Lumen Christi next Friday at 4:30 p.m.at Detroit’s Ford Field in the state championship game.
“It just took us time to wear them down,” said Montague head coach Pat Collins. “I love playing football that way. Those hogs up front really got in there, and we were able to wear them down. I’m proud of how we played old school football.”
The successful offensive drive gave the Wildcats their first lead of the day.
In the first half both defenses battled and made each offense settle for unsuccessful field goal attempts, before the Gladiators broke the scoreless tie with 19.8 seconds left in the second quarter.
St. Francis went 47 yards over eight plays. The drive was capped by a one-yard touchdown run by George Mackey, which gave the Gladiators a 7-0 halftime lead.
On the first possession of the second half, Montague marched 80 yards and found the end zone on a three-yard touchdown run by Stark. The extra point kick failed, and the Wildcats trailed 7-6.
The two teams traded possessions before Montague started the fourth quarter with the ball at their own seven-yard line, marched downfield and took the lead for good.
The Montague defense was stingy after that, allowing several first downs but ultimately standing tall.
The Gladiators marched to the Montague 27-yard line before punting the ball away with just over three minutes left in the game.
The Montague offense started at its own 3-yard line, but managed to run out the clock on seven straight rushes by Stark.
Stark led the Montague rushing attack with 153 yards and one touchdown on 32 carries while Archer added 62 yards and one score on 12 carries.
Collins totaled 92 yards on 9-for-17 passing for the Wildcats.
“It’s easy,” said Stark, talking about how the offensive line opening up holes for him to run through. “I kind of hide behind my blockers and let them do their thing, and then eventually I’ll try to pop in a hole.”
The Montague defense was led by Brennen Schwarz, who had an interception, and Matthew Tarket, who had a fumble recovery.
The Gladiators were led by Danny Passsinault with 98 rushing yards on 16 carries while Evan McGee added 83 yards on 11 carries.
On Friday, the Wildcats will play for a state championship for the first time since 2009, when they won their second straight title.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Collins about what it means to the Montague program to get back in the championship game. “These kids deserve it. It’s a tribute to all of the guys who came before them as well, and helped us reach this level.”
The emotion of getting to a state championship game wasn’t lost on Stark.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever imagined in my life,” he said.