A state title was supposed to be an exclamation point to a noteworthy career for Inkster quarterback Devin Gardner. He had taken his team to the Division 3 final as a junior and had committed to coach Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan, so this was the final who rah for him and the other Viking seniors.
However, at Ford Field in a Division 2 title game Lowell High School (13-1) was not in a giving mood, it was in a taking posture and the Red Arrows took and ran over Inkster’s state title hopes.
Led by sophomore quarterback Gabe Dean, Lowell ran its veer option to perfection producing a methodical and overwhelming 27-6 victory.
“There are certain bubbles in the defense and I have to recognize that,” Dean said. “Then they’re some in the middle and off the end and I have to make certain reads to get into those bubbles and try to hit them.”
Said Lowell coach Noel Dean about his nephew: “I’m not surprised at his ability to check to all the right plays and make the right option reads. Also our offensive line was incredible, probably the best we’ve had.”
Lowell did not complete one single pass, but it did amass 290 yards on the ground on 54 attempts. Dean rushed for 177 yards on 23 carries and scored on runs of 2 and 7 yards. Fullback Austin Graham gained 102 yards on 29 carries and scored twice on 1-yard runs.
“Offensively, it kind of went the way we hoped it would and envisioned it,” coach Dean said. “Our goal was to not throw a pass today . . . what we needed to do was get into a three-point stance and move the pile forward and maintain ball possession, and, we did that.”
Added Inkster coach Greg Carter: “They run that veer and they know what they are doing. It was about assignment football. You have to stay in your lanes and that is something we did not do consistently enough. The bottom line is you have to give them credit. I don’t think we played as well as we can, but they had a lot to do with that.”
Since St Martin DePorres closed, Carter has transformed Inkster’s football program. He has led the Vikings to consecutive state finals; they lost last year to East Grand Rapids in a Division 3 game. The Vikings also reached the finals in 2006 in Division 6, falling to Saginaw Nouvel.
It always hurts to get as far as a final and lose, but when Carter and the players reflect, they should hold their heads very high considering the obstacles they faced during the 2009 season.
After the Mega Conference folded following the 2008 season, Inkster became an independent team. Meaning Carter had to search for opponents, but he found it difficult to find teams that would lace up the cleats against Inkster.
Inkster (9-4) played all 13 games on the road this season. Yes, the Vikings did not have one single home game. They were forced — if they wanted a 2009 football season — to make three trips to Ohio, one to Muskegon, one to Grand Rapids and another to Bay City.
One could surmise that the long grind took its toll on Inkster’s coaches, the players and its fans.
“It’s been an exhausting season,” Carter acknowledged after the game. “To start out 0-2, then having to win the last game on the road in Ohio, made this a tough road we traveled to get here.”
That Ohio win Carter referred to was an incredible victory that gave the Vikings the necessary five regular season wins that is required to get in the playoffs. Inkster went down to Steubenville and ended its 60-game home winning streak with a 36-29 victory. Without the win the Vikings would have been left sitting at home during the state tournament.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Carter said. “It’s been a memorable experience for me and the players. They will be fine in the future. I don’t feel as bad as I did in other championship games we’ve lost, because we lost to a good team.”
Gardner was 9-of-17 passing for 134 yards and he was sacked three times. Lowell kept the defensive pressure on him the entire game, and, sealed the corners so he could not scoot around the ends.
“They got us out our game,” Gardner said. “We got out of position and did not make enough plays to win this game.”
It’s been a mine field of obstacles for Inkster, but they traversed then falling just one game short of a title. So, the Vikings should not labor too much on the loss, but hang mightily onto the football journey they endured.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.