DETROIT – Ryan Smith remembers seeing the potential path he and the Pewamo-Westphalia football team would have to navigate if it wanted to get back to Ford Field.
And the general consensus was there would be nothing easy.
‘When we got seeded, everyone was saying ‘Oh, we’ve got a bad road for how good we are,’” Smith said. “But coach even told us we’ve got to suck it up and play through it.”
They did that to emerge with the school’s first state championship.
And it was a state title that was definitely earned.
No. 2-ranked P-W went through the other five teams deemed the best in Division 7 in the final Associated Press rankings. And the Pirates passed each of those tests in four consecutive weeks, with the final step coming with Saturday’s 28-14 victory over No. 5 Detroit Loyola in the state final at Ford Field.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” P-W junior Jimmy Lehman said. “That’s why we kept working hard, kept sticking to our coaches’ plan and just kept being relentless. That’s all we could do.”
For each test the Pirates faced, that relentless attitude was on display.
When they needed a big stop to get past No. 3-ranked Saugatuck in the district final, the defense came through and Logan Hengesbach had the game-sealing interception in a 25-19 victory.
When they trailed in the fourth quarter on the road against top-ranked Traverse City St. Francis, Jared Smith kept chugging and fighting for yards before emerging with what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in a 17-14 victory.
The P-W defense was up to the task last week and made some key early stops on fourth and short situations that set the tone in a victory over No. 4-ranked Ubly.
And when the Pirates faced an imposing Detroit Loyola defensive front that made moving the ball on the ground difficult Saturday, P-W found a way again and got things done with its passing game with Lehman connecting with Hengesbach for a pair of key touchdowns.
No matter the test that awaited, P-W did what was needed to turn the historic moment it entered the season chasing into a reality.
“I can’t say enough about our kids and the way they approached (the playoffs) with their work ethic and everything,” P-W coach Jeremy Miller said. “It’s just a great, great day. I think they really are proof if you work hard and you set your mind to something that good things will happen for you.
“They are just a relentless football team. That was the word we focused on this week. (It) was being relentless and never give up and keep fighting no matter what. They did that time and time again this year. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.