Trojans Fall Short in District Title Matchup with DeWitt
Above: A dejected group of East Lansing players – Ethan Boyd (77), Kobe Hayward (1), Jalil Lewis (58) and Noah Iosefa (4) – leave the field after Friday night’s 9-7 loss at DeWitt.
The finality of a season-ending football loss is never easy to digest, especially on an early November night when the difference between winning and losing literally could be measured in inches.
Nick Flegler's 26-yard field goal with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter Friday gave DeWitt the margin of victory it needed to defeat East Lansing 9-7 in a Division 3 district title game on the Panthers’ home sod.
But not by much.
Flegler, who earlier in the game had an extra point blocked by East Lansing’s Justin Brown, mustered just enough strength from his left leg to flutter the ball over the crossbar and through the uprights.
“Anytime you play a team the second time, it’s going to be difficult,” said DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman, whose team improved to 11-0 overall and handed East Lansing its only two defeats of the season. “They have some athletes and made some plays early, but all that matters is we won and we’re moving on.”
Coming into Friday’s game, DeWitt had outscored its 10 opponents by a combined total of 420-82, a margin that included a 37-0 whitewash of East Lansing in week five.
But this matchup took on a completely different atmosphere when East Lansing jumped out to an early lead on the first possession of the game by driving 45 yards in six plays, the last 10 of which resulted in a Joe Benbraham to Andrel Anthony touchdown pass. Jack Morse’s extra point put the Trojans ahead by seven.
Two possessions later, East Lansing threatened to score again. The Trojans drove from their own 27 to just inside the DeWitt 10 on the strength of four Benbraham-to-Anthony completions. But after a running play lost a yard and an illegal procedure penalty pushed the ball back to the DeWitt 16, the Panthers forced a key turnover on the next play when defensive back Quenten Hall intercepted Benbraham’s pass at the goal line.
“Yes, a very important play for us early in the game,” Zimmerman said.
In six postseason meetings since the 2010 season, each school has won three games.
“We had them back on their heels early,” said East Lansing coach Bill Feraco. “We gave them some trouble with their man coverages (on defense). I liked the way we were moving the ball.”
Hall’s interception gave DeWitt a much-needed lift and a chance to catch its breath.
DeWitt took over at its own 20 and then proceeded to grind out an 80-yard drive that was aided by three personal foul penalties against East Lansing inside the Trojans’ 20. David Locher scored on a 2-yard run with 3:38 left in the first half, trimming the EL lead to 7-6 before Brown smothered Phillips’ extra point try.
“To end with a loss, it’s never easy, but the body of work speaks for itself that is what they need to remember,” East Lansing coach Bill Feraco said, after addressing his team in the end zone. “They need to be very proud of this 9-2 season – it has not been done in a long time and they need to let that sink in and not dwell on the loss. I’m very proud of these kids.”
“There’s no reason to hang your heads,” East Lansing coach Bill Feraco said to his team following Friday night’s game. “We accomplished a lot this season and you should be proud of yourselves.”
Trailing 9-7 to start the fourth quarter, East Lansing moved the ball from its own 35 to the DeWitt 37 but could not get any closer to the goal line. Penalties stalled some of the offensive momentum and near-misses – including a screen pass that nicked the fingertips of fullback Jamar Mills – prevented the Trojans from regaining the lead.
On its first series of the fourth quarter, DeWitt maintained the ball for nearly seven minutes before EL’s Louis Booth intercepted a Blake Gatfield pass at the 15 with 1:30 to play. With 85 yards to go and only one timeout, the Trojans found themselves with too much ground to cover and not enough time.
“We settled down in the second half after being rattled early when things didn’t go as well for us as they normally do,” Zimmerman said. “Regrouping at halftime and playing with more composure in the second half made a big difference for us.”
On the Trojans’ side of the ball, Benbraham completed 19 of 31 passes for 194 yards. Anthony caught nine passes for 91 yards (and his seventh touchdown) while Morse finished with seven receptions for 80 yards. Kobe Hayward rushed for 38 yards, including a key 26-yard gain on the opening drive. The senior tailback rushed for 930 yards this season despite missing two full games and parts of two others.
“We left everything out there on the field,” Hayward said. “We played with poise and discipline but came up short. I’m proud of my brothers and we came a long way.
“They (DeWitt) had a good defensive scheme and you have to give them credit.”
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