Water, sports drinks and pep talks all can work, but nothing energizes a football team like good old-fashioned momentum.
Oak Park gulped down a heaping helping of ‘mo’ Friday afternoon, scoring four late touchdowns in eight minutes to grab a 25-20 come-from-behind victory over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State.
“Everybody sees Oak Park as kind of like a slouch team,” running back John Kelly said, “but this type of win is going to pretty much solidify that we’re a pretty good team, because we came out here and beat a team that goes to the championship just about every year. We’re a pretty good team if we can do that.”
Kelly scored what proved to be the winning touchdown, a 51-yard sweep which gave the Knights (1-0) a 25-13 lead with just under nine minutes to play.
“I just followed my blocks,” he said. “The line did a very good job, and I hit the hole and just turned it into a track meet. Nobody was going to catch me from there.”
Kelly — an all-state track athlete — had a spring in his step that none of the Knights seemed to have when they still hadn’t put any points on the board well into the third quarter.
“Being down 13-0, we knew that it was really important for us to get that first score in the second half,” coach Greg Carter said. “We got that first touchdown and things started rolling for us.”
Immediately after Ricardo Brown scored on a nine-yard run up the middle, Shawn Anthony returned a fumble 11 yards, and the Knights had erased their two-touchdown deficit in just 12 seconds.
“We started getting ourselves a little momentum with the first touchdown of the second half, but to get that fumble recovery score was just tremendous,” Carter said. “That gave us a little bit more energy against a real tough team in a real tough second half.”
The Knights seemed to respond on both sides of the ball, holding the Eaglets without a yard on their next possession. Oak Park then needed just five plays to score the go-ahead touchdown, a 50-yard pass play from Jordan Leonard to Donte Only.
Leonard rolled out, didn’t see any open receivers and appeared to be boxed in the backfield, but when the defenders came after Leonard, Only was left in the clear, and there was lots of green space when he got the ball in his hands.
St. Mary’s couldn’t move the ball on its next possession either, and this time, Oak Park just needed two plays to add more points, as Kelly made his touchdown run.
With 3:28 and only one timeout remaining, the Eaglets got within five points after Mark Zanders had his second 1-yard plunge of the day. St. Mary’s got the ball back with 49 seconds to play, but couldn’t finish a last-gasp drive. The clock ticked out after Evan Henry’s 28-yard pass completion to Ross Moore, with the ball on the Oak Park 27.
The Eaglets controlled the game in the first half, when the contest was still a defensive battle.
Jeff Robinson gave them the early 7-0 lead on a 1-yard dive midway through the second quarter. St. Mary’s followed that up on the next drive with Zanders’ first touchdown, making it 13-0 two seconds before halftime.
But things changed after the break.
“In the second half, I knew we had a chance to win this game,” Carter said. “We actually didn’t make a whole lot of defensive or offensive changes. We just knew that we had to play harder, and play with a little bit better technique, and the kids did that. This is one of our best wins in history.”