DETROIT - It was truly a Clash of Titans for the Pewamo-Westphalia football team in defeating the Titans of Jackson Lumen Christi 14-0 in the Division 7 MHSAA State Championship at Ford Field on Saturday.
PW (13-0) came into the game a year removed from a run of three straight Division 7 state titles and the winner of 24 straight games including this, their ninth shutout this season. The Pirates had outscored their opponents 506-56 this season behind a stout defense and a rushing attack that garnered a 2,879-509 running-yard advantage over their opponents.
Lumen Christi (12-1) came into the came as the reigning three-time Division 6 champions, but had moved down a competition level this season due to enrollment numbers. The Titans had won 35 straight games and finished in a tie with PW for a No. 2 state ranking, averaging 33.3 points per game.
"They are obviously one of the storied programs in the state of Michigan,” said P-W coach Jeremy Miller. “When you're going up against them you have to execute, and we did that today. To do it against a quality program like that is obviously just a tremendous credit to our kids."
The game was what you might expect from two top-tier programs.
The schools took turns exerting their defensive will again each other for a majority of the 60-minutes. First downs and offensive yards of any sort were tough to come by. P-W converted on just 4-of-13 opportunities on third down. They ran the ball 39 times for a dismal 127 yards, a 1.7 yard-per-carry average.
Conversely, Lumen Christi was held to 107 ground yards on 30 attempts, a 2.7 per-carry average, in a game featuring 11 punts. The Titans were just 3-of-13 on third down.
"They played great defense and tried to force us to throw the ball and we didn't take advantage of the chances,” said Lumen Christi coach Herb Brogan, who has 368 wins in his career. “Hats off to them. I thought they played a great ballgame and I thought they had a great plan." The offensive game plan for the Pirates was simple. Stay true to your style, run the ball and capitalize on passing plays when given the opportunity.
It just so happened that P-W had the perfect player to make that happen. Senior quarterback Ethan Thelen did an excellent job in controlling the Pirates offense. He was just 5-of-11 passing but his 27-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Aaron Bearss with just three seconds remaining gave P-W a 7-0 advantage at the halftime break. Thelen did all he could to will the Pirates to victory, something he has wanted badly since suffering an ACL tear during week 9 as a sophomore.
He had to watch as his teammates win it all in 2017 and wanted nothing more than to take part in this year’s festivities. “I just wanted to get back here,” said Thelen. “I wanted to compete. I love sports and I knew with all the hard work I put in I could do it.”
Thelen rehabbed his ACL multiple days per week for a year to get back in playing shape. “I truly didn’t know when he was coming back if he would ever be able to play again,” said Miller of his team leader.
“It was a tough journey. The way he came back and led them to victory today is a big credit to him. Give Ethan props.”
PW wouldn't score again until late in the fourth, they made up for a squandered red-zone opportunity early in the quarter when senior running back Carter Thelen broke free for a 16-yard score with 2:16 remaining.
“We inch counts and every little bit matters,” said Thelen. “That’s how you change the momentum of a game.”
The Pirates finished the season with plenty of momentum after knocking off three of the top 5 teams in the Division 7 playoffs, including a win again top-ranked and defending state champion New Lothrop in the regional and No. 5 Iron Mountain in the state semifinal at the Superior Dome in Marquette. “These guys have knocked down anything that’s been put in front of them,” Miller said. “It’s just extra sweet to get it done and bring the thing home again.”