Clinton wins regional football championship

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Clinton quarterback TJ Baker (6) escaped pressure and threw a touchdown pass on the first play from the line of scrimmage. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.
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Constantine crumbled under pressure during the 2013 Division 6 regional championship hosted by Clinton High School’s varsity football team on Saturday, Nov. 16, with the undefeated Redskins beating the Falcons 47-28 to go down in school history by qualifying to advance to the MHSAA state semifinal at Middleville-Thornapple-Kellogg High School to face Shelby (11-1).

The last time the Redskins advanced to the state semifinal was in 1990 when losing 22-7 to Galesburg-Augusta, led by current head Clinton coach Scott McNitt.

This year’s regional final featured a wild ride where both teams matched touchdown for touchdown until late in the first quarter. Clinton opened scoring with starting quarterback TJ Baker connecting with Matthew Sexton on a 74-yard touchdown pass on the first play from the line of scrimmage. The pass came on the fly as Baker was chased from the pocket and connected with Sexton a split second before getting dropped.

Sexton, a sophomore, would score four more touchdowns, three on pass receptions of 35-, 15- and 40-yards and a 79-yard punt return, all in the first half.

“I was just playing the game and having fun,” Sexton commented after the huge win. He added that him scoring five touchdowns was not in the game plan. “It just kind of worked out like that,” he said.

The Redskins began taking control of the contest with 1:34 left in the first quarter, scoring a touchdown and heading into the second quarter holding a 20-13 lead. Sexton hit the end zone twice in the second quarter and Clinton held a 34-13 lead before the Falcons were able to answer. With just 13 seconds left in the second quarter the Falcons added eight points on a touchdown and two-point conversion to close the half down 34-21.

Constantine’s starting quarterback, Matt Hasbrouck, was injured in the waning minutes of the second quarter and was replaced by Nick West in the second half.

McNitt said it took the first quarter and then some to adapt to Constantine’s offense.

“You can’t do it in practice, it took a quarter or so to get used to it and we slowed them down,” McNitt said. “But, their quarterback leaving at halftime was big.”

Collin Poore broke away for a big 75-yard Clinton touchdown run in the third quarter and the Falcons responded in the fourth quarter with a short one-yard run into the end zone.

Clinton scored its final touchdown on a quarterback keeper with Baker cruising the ball into the end zone on a 31-yard run.

Gannon Nelson converted 5-of-7 extra-point kicks for Clinton in the game.

Some of the key skills players, including Baker and Sexton, played on both sides of the ball and also made a big impact defensively.

“I was worried about that personally, said McNitt. “Because of the way they pound you on offense. Our linemen were playing both ways in there and we were worried they were going to wear down, but luckily we got big plays... It was our big plays versus their grind-out, smash mouth game and we prevailed.”

Baker said it was hard playing both offense and defense and preparation was key in getting the job done.

“Especially with their grind it out offense. We were definitely tired but that’s what we condition for and we condition each and every day,” he said. “It’s definitely exciting. It’s a great feeling. The crowd was great, we had a big showing out here.”

Kamdan and Keagan Ward and John Sullivan, Nate Kaszuba and Grant Holbrook blocked and protected well in the trenches, according to McNitt.

Defensively, Clinton defended 67 plays from Constantine. John Sullivan, Foster Griffin, Brett Tschirhart and TJ Baker led the Redskins in tackles with nine each. Griffin and Jared Sackett had interceptions while Sullivan had a key fumble recovery.

“We told our kids they’re going to have to battle because when their offense gets going it’s almost like a machine,” said McNitt’s defensive coach Jeremy Fielder. “There’s not a lot you can do structurally to stop it. We knew that at some point we had to get a couple of big stops, which we did. Our kids really rose up in the third quarter. I give all the credit to those guys. They just played hard. All year they’ve just executed our game plan. They’ve believed in us as coaches and believed in each other.”

Adding tackles were Ryan Karapas (2), Sexton (7), Sackett (5), Reid Clark (5), Noah Poore (4), Seth Sylvester (3), Kaszuba (6), Ward (5), Zach Amsdill (6), and Nelson (1).

“We’re very proud of our kids, we’re advancing and have another opportunity next week,” McNitt said.

It’s been 23 years since McNitt’s led the Redskins to a state semifinal game and he’s being realistic about Clinton’s chances of advancing even further.

“It’s been a while,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of kids, we’ve got a great group of coaches. We just have to have another great week next week and give ourselves a chance come next Saturday.”




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