Midland Dow had tied the score with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter and this was the moment Fenton junior quarterback Josh Czarnota had been waiting for . . . for exactly a year.
A year ago Dow knocked Fenton out of the Division 2 playoffs in the same game, the district final, 41-14. But this year, Czarnota knew, would be different.
Fenton, ranked No. 9, opened the playoffs with a dominating 49-19 thrashing of Flint Carman Ainsworth and Czarnota couldn’t wait to get on the field with down.
“Ever since the game ended against Carman Ainsworth I thought: Revenge, revenge, revenge,” he said. “Last year they got us, but this year had to be us.”
Fenton played well throughout the game, but doubt could have settled in when No. 5 Dow tied the game in the fourth quarter. But Czarnota wouldn’t hear of it.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” Czarnota told his teammates in the huddle following Dow’s score. “We’ve got this.”
It took just over three minutes for Czarnota to guide the Tigers down the field, capping the 70-yard drive with a 5-yard screen pass to Josh Maher with 2:10 left to play to win the game, 49-42.
This was a key game for Fenton and maybe an even bigger game for Czarnota. He was playing opposite Bruce Mann, Dow’s fine senior quarterback who has had another excellent season.
Czarnota? He, too, has had a tremendous season, passing for over 2,000 yards and running for another 1,000 while totaling about 40 touchdowns.
But not a lot of people know much about Czarnota, which may have bothered him a bit.
“I approach the game the same every time whether there’s a star quarterback or not I’m going against,” Czarnota said. “But I definitely knew he was being looked at a lot and I definitely had a chip on my shoulder going in to that game.”
That may be why Czarnota may have paid even more attention to the tape when watching the Dow defense.
“I thought there were many gaps for taking off when I didn’t have anybody open,” he said. “That led to a lot of yardage for me. I also saw the center of the field was more open and the linebackers bailed right away when they saw pass.”
Czarnota digested all of that and when game time rolled around he took advantage of everything he learned in the film room.
Not only did he complete 21 of 32 yards for 264 yards and a touchdown, he also ran 27 times for another 162 yards and five touchdowns in a fabulous performance.
Like Czarnota, Fenton was under the radar after opening the season with a 55-52 loss to Caledonia and a 51-28 loss to Temperance Bedford, which is also in the regional finals.
But the Tigers have won nine straight now and if they thought they were underdogs against Dow, just wait until this week when they play No. 1 Walled Lake Western, which features Johnny Tracy, another of the state’s top quarterbacks.
And then there is receiver Cody White, one of the best all-around players in the state.
“We’re going to approach it the same,” Czarnota said. “We’re just going to get it done in practice. Obviously everyone knows they’re a great team so we’re going to have to bring extra focus to get it done.”
Czarnota may also want to bring that chip for his shoulder.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1