EAST CHINA TWP. – Walking into Friday’s district title game, Marine City had a 10-0 record, a stout running game and state championship experience.
However, all of that wasn’t close to being enough to compete against Almont — an undefeated team with a prize-winning stable of running backs and a defense that is too punishing.
With their all-around dominance on East China Stadium’s turf, the Raiders won their first district title since 2011 with a convincing 35-7 victory.
“That didn’t surprise us at all, we knew that they were a very good team,” Marine City head coach Ron Glodich said. “You walk off the field with a ton of respect for them … they’re better than us at a lot of things.”
“I think they’re good enough to win the state championship, and they have the right parts to do it.”
As good as Marine City’s running game has been all season, it was no match for Almont’s impermeable front seven, holding the Mariners to 79 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Marine City senior Jarrett Mathison, who is accustomed to putting up monster numbers on Friday nights, was held to just 42 yards on 11 carries.
“They were awesome,” Mathison said. “They were very physical, they flowed very well and their linebackers were very, very aggressive. Probably the best defense we’ve seen (this year or last).”
With the run game brought to a stall the Mariners were forced to air the ball out with quarterback Alex Merchant, who threw 9-for-27 with 112 yards.
The offensive game was a different story for Almont, which cycled touches between Mike Couch, Nick Baker and Jake Zielinski.
Baker was the game’s leader with a staggering 187 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Couch was behind with 78 yards and a touchdown on 15 touches.
“It feels fantastic,” Couch said. “I’m just … emotions are everywhere right now.”
The play calling from Almont also was superb. The Raiders ran a heavy amount of jet sweeps off the tackles all night long. All but three jets sweeps went for at least five yards.
“That’s what we do,” Ferman said. “We haven’t in the last few weeks with the weather, but we’re a jet team and that’s what we do.”
The game started picture-perfect for the Mariners, who got their first drive started from their own 45 yard line after a spectacular kickoff return by senior Trevor Quandt. A 31-yard catch by senior Cole Avers from senior Alex Merchant had them cruising down the field in a drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by junior Matt Badke.
However, that was the loudest Marine City’s fans would get, and for a good reason.
When Almont started its opening drive from its own 20 yard line, they immediately brought the ruckus with an 80-yard touchdown run by senior Nick Baker.
Marine City took back the ball, but placed it back in Almont’s hands when Merchant overthrew a screen pass that landed in Almont senior Mike Couch’s hands at midfield.
Three plays later on third and long, senior quarterback Trevor Nichols connected with Jake Zielinski to keep the drive alive. It paid off in spades as Couch later scored on an eight-yard sweep to take a 14-7 lead just three minutes into the game.
The second quarter started with the Mariners punting after a three-and-out deep in their own territory. The Raiders took over 67 yards away from the end zone, but sure enough, they made the journey on a 32-yard catch by on a Nichols-to-Couch connection to make it 20-7.
Just like that, the feeling of concern started to blanket Marine City’s sideline and jam-packed bleachers.
Oh, but the Raiders weren’t done sucking the energy right out of Marine City’s black jerseys.
With 19 seconds remaining in the first half, Almont was staring at fourth and goal from the four yard line. With hulking senior tight end Nick Kerby split to the right with one-on-one coverage, Nichols hit his big target on a slant route for the score.
A fade route right back to Kerby on the two-point conversion created 28 unanswered pointsf or the Raiders as they walked into halftime with a 28-7 lead.
The third quarter was quiet, which was good news for Marine City’s defense. Unfortunately it was bad news for the Mariners, who never threatened to score throughout the quarter.
For the third time in the game, the Raiders scored on fourth down after running their umpteenth jet sweep to Nick Baker, this time for a 1-yard score in the fourth quarter. The score was 35-7, and the district trophy was all but Almont’s.
Marine City had the ball moving on a desperation drive late in the fourth, but a sack in the red zone on fourth down by senior Noah Lackowski sealed the game.
After the game Marine City players stayed on the field consoling each other and hearing words of encouragement from teammates and coaches.
“(I told them) you won a (MAC Gold) championship, you only lost two games, and it’s hard to reflect on that after a night like this,” Glodich said. “But gosh darn those seniors better understand how outstanding of a career they had.”
Contact Matt Sheehan at (810) 989-6267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Sheehan_Sports.