Ithaca beats Clinton 27-20 in MHSAA Division 6 football final


Clinton senior Noah Poore (44) scored the first touchdown of the MHSAA Division 6 state championship final. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.

Despite being backed into the ropes early on in the Division 6 state final in Detroit at Ford Field on Friday, Nov. 27, Ithaca’s varsity football players and coaching staff didn’t panic and came from behind to beat Clinton 27-20 and secure their fifth championship in the past six years.
It was only the second time Clinton had advanced to the final (2013), and both times was defeated by Ithaca.
“I’ll be honest, it was pretty dark again there for a while,” said Yellowjackets head coach Terry Hessbrook. “They had us on the ropes and we were scrounging around as a coaching staff figuring you know what, we’ve got to figure out a way where we can score some points.”
Clinton scored the game’s first touchdown with Redskin quarterback Kaden Kelly passing to Noah Poore for a 21-yard touchdown in the first quarter (2:19). Erik Bouse connected on the following point after touchdown (PAT) kick and put the Redskins up 7-0.
Neither team was able to hit the end zone in the second quarter and Clinton went into the halftime break leading 7-zip.
Ithaca was shut down on its first offensive drive of the third quarter and punted from its own 27-yard line.
Clinton then started its next offensive drive from its own 44-yard line. After making no ground on its first down attempt, Sexton rushed 56-yards for a touchdown that gave Clinton a 13-0 advantage. 
The Redskins had Bouse attempt a PAT kick but it was blocked by Ithaca’s Tyler Spitzley.
“We had a chance, thirteen-zero,” said Clinton head coach Scott McNitt. “And then we had a huge momentum change, gave up twenty-seven straight, but we battled to the end and had a chance. That’s all we can ask these kids to do.”
From that point on Ithaca’s offense came alive and couldn’t be stopped by the Redskins.
Quarterback Erik Smith was challenged by Ithaca’s coach to step up his game in the second half and he answered his coach’s demand.
“This young man right here, Jake, I was pretty hard on him at halftime,” Hessbrook said in the post-game interview. “I told him to be the best player on the field in the second half and you know what? I think he was... Jake stepped up when he had to step up and made some fantastic runs in the running game and made some great passes in the passing game, and we’re here.”
Smith ran into the end zone from 14 yards out to get the Yellowjackets rolling with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Spence DeMull to follow that tied the game 13-13 and another good PAT by Adam Culp put the Yellowjackets up 14-13 with 4:31 left in the quarter.
Smith rushed 11-yards for another touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter and Culp connected on his third straight PAT kick to give the Yellowjackets a 21-13 lead.
Smith rushed one yard into the end zone in the fourth quarter (7:47) and Culp missed the PAT to set the score at 27-13.
“In the first half we did what we wanted to do. We kept him in front of us, we didn’t get him loose, but in the third quarter he found something and showed he was the best player on the field,” McNitt said of Smith.
Poore scored the final touchdown in the game with 4:59 remaining on the clock. Bouse connected on the ensuing PAT kick to end all scoring.
“I want to say what a class-act the Clinton kids were, and their coaches” said Hessbrook. “I didn’t get a chance to interact with their fans, thank goodness, but their coaches handled everything with class throughout the game and their players handled it with class. I think our players would be the first ones to admit that. They were good people. Hats off to them. They’ve got a heck of a squad.”
Clinton out-rushed Ithaca 179-115 but the Yellowjackets outdid the Redskins in passing yards with 180 to 83.
McNitt thought that his Redskins played great defense in the first half but wore out as the game progressed.
“We went through a phase there in the second half where I think we lost momentum and got tired,” he said. “They’ve got a great defense, a fast defense and we’re used to getting to the edge, breaking big plays and we got one with Mathew [Sexton] there in the third quarter but just couldn’t get loose. So, then we resorted to our passing game, which is not our strength. We gave it what we could.”
Clinton finished the season with an overall record of 13-1.
“Bittersweet. We lost to a great football team,” said McNitt. “But we’re going to hold our heads as high as can be. The gauntlet that we’ve gone through these past four weeks, Saint Mary’s, Madison Heights, Lumen Christi and NorthPoint Christian, may have taken some of what we needed in the tank out of us but you know what?  These kids battled to the end. We’re really proud of them.”
Sexton rushed for 145-yards on 20 carries while Poore had 56-yards on 14 carries. Kelly completed 4-of-10 passes for 79 yards. Defensively, Kenny DeShano led the Redskins with 11 tackles.
“Give the kids all the credit for putting in the work and executing on the field, they are the reason we did what we did,” McNitt said. He also credited the success of the season to his coaching staff, which includes Jeremy Fielder (defensive coordinator), John Schuler (line coach), Corbin Brown, Ken Roberts, Joe Gillies, David Pray, Mike Howe and Zak McNitt.


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