DETROIT – The theme all year for Ithaca has been getting back on top of the mountain.
Jake Smith made sure the Yellowjackets completed that climb successfully.
The senior quarterback rushed for three scores and passed for another during a big second half to help top-ranked Ithaca to a 27-20 win over Clinton on Friday in the Division 6 state championship game at Ford Field.
“It’s such a great feeling being back on top of the mountain,” said Smith, who threw for 180 yards and ran for 126. “It’s a breath of fresh air.
“Everybody knew what we wanted to do and there were a lot of teams standing in our way. We just worked hard, kept playing and took care of business. I’m just happy that we came out on top and stuck a flag in the top of the mountain.”
Friday’s title marked the fifth in six seasons for the Yellowjackets, who are 83-1 in the span. That lone loss came in last year’s state final to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
“It feels great to be back on top,” Ithaca senior Spence DeMull said. “Last year was a real stinger. We were in this situation where I’m standing right now and I was getting questions all about the streak. It’s just great to be back in Ford Field and get redemption and to be able to go out on top in my last high school football game.”
Getting back to the top wasn’t a smooth ride for Ithaca (14-0).
Clinton, which ended the season ranked No. 5 in Division 7, led 7-0 at halftime and added to it in the early stages of the third quarter on Eastern Michigan commit Mathew Sexton’s 56-yard TD run.
That’s when Smith and the Yellowjackets responded. Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook challenged Smith at halftime to be the best player on the field and he was a difference maker.
Smith’s 39-yard pass to DeMull seemed to provide a spark for the Yellowjackets. Ithaca scored on the next play on a 14-yard TD run by Smith and that started a stretch of 27 unanswered points for the Yellowjackets.
Smith, who passed for 119 yards and ran for 120 during the second half, had a hand in each of the scores.
“In the first half we did what we wanted to do and kept him in front of us,” Clinton coach Scott McNitt said. “In the third quarter he found something and it showed. He was the best player on the field.
“Give him his accolades. He’s an outstanding football player and I’m sure his stats showed.”
Sexton had 141 yards rushing to lead Clinton (13-1), which fell to Ithaca in a state title game for the second time in three years. The Redskins had a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes but their drive was stopped by Derek Teed’s fourth down sack.
“Losing last year and not being able to hold on to this particular trophy (hurt),” Jace Demenov said while clinching the state championship trophy. “Being able to get back here and win after all that work – I can’t describe it. It’s just complete happiness.”
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