It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be.
In a CAAC Blue matchup that consisted of 20-plus penalties, East Lansing held off Sexton in the final seconds to grab a 14-8 victory Friday night at Sexton High School.
The Trojans move to 4-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference — a complete 180 from where they were at this time a year ago.
“I don’t think (we would have),” said senior running back Noah Holbrook, who had a game-high 158 rushing yards, when asked if his team would have come out victorious in a game like this last season. “We were young last year. We grew as a team, and we came together and learned to play together.”
The loss gives the Big Reds (1-6, 1-4) their fifth single-digit defeat of the year. The inability to make key plays late in games has been frustrating for both players and coaches, and it’s left Sexton missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“We’ve been down (late) in scoring position in four or five games to win it,” Sexton coach Daniel Boggan said. “It’s frustrating.”
They were right there again Friday night.
On its final drive, Sexton found itself facing third-and-29 after two sacks on quarterback Mike Lynn II and a delay of game penalty looked to put the Trojans in prime position to close out the game. But on third down, Lynn’s 5-yard pass to senior Devin Taylor ended with a helmet-to-helmet penalty and gave the Big Reds a manageable third-and-9. On the next play, Lynn found Kisten Bransen for a 15-yard completion. Two plays later, running back Karey Faulkner, who scored the team’s only touchdown on a 2-yard run, had a 15-yard run. But it was called back for holding.
Lynn found Cody Blankenburg a couple plays later for 13 yards and gave Sexton another first down. After two illegal procedure calls, Lynn linked up with Bransen once again for 13 yards on third-and-long to get the ball in the red zone. But East Lansing’s defense didn’t break and forced three incompletions in the final seconds.
“Penalties have continued to haunt us throughout this year,” said Boggan, whose offense was never able to get into a rhythm due to the high volume of flags. “We’re going to turn the page, get back to work, and get ready for next week.”
Both of the Trojans’ scores came in the first half. Senior BJ Powell gave East Lansing its first touchdown with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run, which was setup by a 21-yard run by Holbrook. The second score came late in the second quarter when quarterback Hunter Helmic found tight end Nick Rosa for a 1-yard touchdown pass, and, once more, a 20-plus yard run by Holbrook led to the 14-0 lead before the half.
In the second half, however, the Trojans’ offense wasn’t as successful. Two fumbles and a bad snap on fourth down, which led to a safety, gave Sexton its opportunity to even the score late.
“When things don’t go your way on one side of the ball, or both sides of the ball, and you still come away with a victory…,” East Lansing coach Bill Feraco said. “Tonight the defense established some very good plays for us and made some stops when we needed them, especially at the end. From that standpoint, we just build on that.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.