Clinton football team heading to state final for first time in school history
Frigid cold weather with a blistering wind did little to keep Clinton High School’s varsity football team from winning the state semifinal to advance to the state final for the first time in school history. Shelby High School was even less of a threat with the Redskins easily defeating the Tigers for a huge 49-3 victory.
The big win advances the Redskins to the state final on Friday, Nov. 29, in Detroit at Ford Field, the home of the Lions. Clinton faces undefeated Ithaca; the three-time defending Division 6 state champs at 4:30 p.m.
“There is only one thing to say boys. It’s a great day to be a Redskin!” yelled an excited Clinton coach Scott McNitt when addressing his players after the win. “And we’re going to Ford Field!
“This is a great day. This is a lifelong dream for all of us,” McNitt said. “And we couldn’t be going to Ford Field with a better group of kids. On and off the field they’ve been outstanding. They’ve earned every right to do this. Now we’re just going to enjoy the ride.”
The Tigers were unable to control Clinton senior quarterback TJ Baker and complimented the Redskins on their style of play after the game. In addition to running the ball down the Tigers’ throat and scoring on a 54-yard run, Baker also made huge impacts on the opposite side of the ball, picking off one of two interceptions that were returned to the end zone.
The first interception was on Shelby’s first possession when the pass, thrown into a hard wind, was picked off by Baker and returned for six points, early in the opening quarter.
Shelby again tested the Redskins defense on their following possession and went for it on fourth and one on their own 17-yard line. Clinton stopped the Tigers in their tracks, converted a first down and completed the drive with Brett Tschirhart carrying the brick-hard pigskin into the end zone from just four yards out.
Clinton’s Gannon Nelson missed his first point after touchdown kick (PAT), due to a high snap, but connected on the second to give the Redskins a 13-0 lead with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter. He converted three PAT kicks during the game.
Matthew Sexton again stepped up his game, scoring three touchdowns on 46- and 66-yard runs and also intercepting the ball and returning it 28-yards into the end zone. His first was on a gutsy call by coach McNitt with the Redskins sitting on a fourth and six on Shelby’s 46-yard line. Baker handed the ball off to Sexton and he didn’t stop running until hitting the end zone.
Baker passed to Dylan Spurlock on a two-point conversion and the Redskins held a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter (11:02) with snow blowing horizontally onto the field.
Shelby drove to Clinton’s 16-yard line on its ensuing possession but was held to a fourth and seven on the 13-yard line. The Tigers decided three points were better than nothing and put up a good field goal for their only points in the contest with 6:27 remaining in the first half.
Approximately three minutes later Baker pushed off three opponents and broke away for a 54-yard rushing touchdown to put the Redskins up 27-3.
Nelson’s following PAT was blocked by Shelby’s Dylan Unger.
A turnover on the following kickoff again had the Redskins heading back toward Shelby’s goal posts as Seth Sylvester recovered the loose ball for Clinton. A couple of plays later, Sexton busted free and ran the ball into the end zone but a holding call neglected the touchdown.
Shelby forced the Redskins to punt the ball but Sexton intercepted it on the Tigers’ first play from the line of scrimmage and scored again to put Clinton up 33-3.
Baker passed the ball to Jared Sackett on a two-point conversion and the Redskins held a huge 35-3 lead to end the first half.
It was only 21 degrees in Middleville when the Redskins returned to the field for the second half and the wind was still howling. It took Clinton less than a minute in the third quarter to score again with Sexton pushing off a couple of Tigers and rushing 66-yards for his third semifinal touchdown. Nelson gave Clinton a 42-3 advantage with a good PAT kick to follow and the referee ordered a running clock with 11:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Baker helped the clock eat up time on his following possessions by slowing down his calls the rest of the third quarter and Clinton carried its 42-3 lead into the final quarter.
With 9:44 remaining in the game, Tschirhart scored on a seven-yard run and Nelson connected on the PAT to end all scoring.
Clinton’s 46-point lead allowed coach McNitt to give his backup players some game time and after holding the Tigers’ offense he sent in junior quarterback Ryan Karapas to finish out the game.
McNitt never guessed his boys would put so many points on the board against a quality team such as Shelby. The Tigers had lost just one other game all season.
“Our defense gave us two interceptions for touchdowns. That set the tone,” McNitt commented. “The conditions, we got them pinned where we wanted them and everything fell into place for a reason.”
With just over two minutes left in the game, Clinton’s fans began shouting “Here we come Ford Field, here we come!”
Scoring for the Redskins:
TJ Baker — 24-yard interception return and 54 yard run
Brett Tschirhart — runs of four- and seven-yards
Mathew Sexton — runs of 46- and 66-yards and a 28-yard interception returned for touchdown
Gannon Nelson converted three extra-point kicks
Dylan Spurlock and Jared Sackett each converted two-point pass plays
Collin Poore rushed for 90 yards on 12 carries to lead Clinton. Adding yards were Tschirhart (7-28), Baker (7-78), Sexton (3-112), Sackett (1-7), Brad Gilbert (4-2) and Blake Rogers (1-0)
Baker completed a pass to Poore for six yards.
Leading blockers for the Redskins:
John Sullivan, Nate Kaszuba, Kamdan Ward, Keagan Ward and Grant Holbrook.
Leading defensive players:
Foster Griffin had eight tackles to lead Clinton’s defense. Adding tackles for Clinton were Ryan Karapas (1), Baker (5, interception, fumble recovery), Sexton (5, interception), Sackett (4), Reid Clark (2), KC Clegg (2), Tschirhart (6, sack), Seth Sylvester (fumble recovery), Nate Kaszuba (5), Keagan Ward (2, fumble recovery), Zach Amsdill (2) and Grant Olbrook (4) added tackles.
Clinton’s Offensive Player of the Game was Baker while Nate Kaszuba was named Defensive Player of the Game. Mathew Sexton was named Special Teams Player of the Game and Grant Holbrook was named Red Army Player of the Game.
Clinton remains undefeated at 13-0 and advances to the State Championship game for the first time in school history.
Defensive coach Jeremy Fielder also talked to the players in the huddle after the win and congratulated the assistant coaches and players for doing such a great job.
“The one person on this field we know deflects all the attention to you guys, He’s been Clinton football forever. This is for you guys, this is for everyone, but especially for this guy right here,” Fielder said as he grabbed hold of McNitt’s arm and the entire group cheered.
“You’ve earned this,” McNitt said. “We’re going together and going to have a blast with this. I’m really proud of you!”