Just over 30 seconds remained as the Detroit Cass Tech players scrambled to the line of scrimmage at the Utica Eisenhower 20-yard line, trailing 28-25 at Troy Athens.
On a third-down play, Donovan Peoples-Jones exploded off the line of scrimmage and headed down field.
Eisenhower had two defenders covering Peoples-Jones, but Cass quarterback Rodney Hall knew where the ball had to be thrown.
“We work on it in practice where you throw it where the receiver can get it or it’s out of bounds,” said Hall. “That was one of those throws. Donovan has great leaping ability and ability to catch the ball and come down with it.”
Even if Hall was reluctant to throw the ball into double coverage, the words of coach Thomas Wilcher were reverberating in his head.
“I see a vision every game with him catching the ball,” Wilcher said of Peoples-Jones. “I just need the quarterback to always throw it to him; that’s it. That’s it! Just throw him the ball! Period! I know quarterbacks don’t like throwing the ball in tight windows, but my thing is, throw the ball to him.”
As he streaked toward the end zone, Peoples-Jones looked back to Hall.
“I was running the cornerback off, made eye contact with Rodney,” he said. “He and I knew that he was going to throw that ball.”
Peoples-Jones leaped in the air, made a terrific catch in the end zone, landing on his back to give Cass Tech a dramatic 32-28 victory Saturday over No. 3 Utica Eisenhower.
The win means No. 1 Cass Tech (13-0) will play No. 2 Novi Detroit Catholic Central (13-0) for the Division 1 state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday in Ford Field.
Peoples-Jones’ catch was his eighth of the day, but his first seven netted him only 66 yards, which is the way Eisenhower coach Chris Smith hoped it would go.
“He’s one guy we really covered, really game-planned for,” said Smith. “Peoples-Jones is one of the top receivers in the country. He showed it with that play there. We had two guys on him and he made a great play on us.”
Eisenhower (12-1) led most of the way with quarterback Max Wittwer and running back Jack Provencher turning in turning in exceptional performances. And the Ike defense, led by linebacker Henry Janeway, kept the Cass offense in check for most of the game, building a 28-19 lead with 10:17 left in the fourth quarter.
A one-yard TD run by Cass’ Jaron Mangham with 3:52 left cut the deficit to 28-25. The Cass defense forced a quick three-and-out and a punt into the wind gave the Technicians the ball on Ike’s 40 with 1:36 remaining.
“I knew we needed a first down in that last series,” Smith said.
Cass ran the ball three times before Hall threw the ball to Peoples-Jones.
“That throw was amazing,” Peoples-Jones gushed. “I’ve never seen a throw that perfect. The throw was perfect, the blocking protection was perfect. Everything on that play was perfect.”
Nothing was more perfect than the catch.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.