(Cass Tech celebrates its second consecutive title. – Andre Smith photo)
Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher came into the post Division 1 State title press conference at Ford Field with a giant smile on his face. Good for him! He, his coaches and his players earned it.
In fact, the excellent turnout in Downtown Detroit showed up in respect for the Detroit Public School League (PSL). It mattered not where one graduated from, the Cass Tech 36-21victory over perennial power Detroit Catholic Central, was a victory for all that has prepped in the Michigan’s largest public school district.
In the post game press conference Wilcher exclaimed, while smiling like a Chester the cat, “Hey, you only live once. We may not make it back again.”
While his retort is very, very true, as evident by the fact only two PSL schools – Cass Tech (12-2) and Martin Luther King (2007 Div. 2) – have won Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) titles in football, he surely had his fingers crossed for the future.
Sure Wilcher will lose some of the top talent in the state, but with the closing of former PSL powers like Mackenzie, Redford and Murray Wright, just to name a few, the talent in the City has been condensed, and, with Cass Tech at the same time developing a solid overall program, they have been able to create an environment where good student athletes want to come. Couple the closing of historic PSL schools and the environment Wilcher has fostered at Cass Tech is why it has become an elite program in the state.
“This is happening because of the approach of our coaches’ teaching,” Wilcher told me. “They work our kids hard in practice, and, hold themselves accountable for our outcomes.”
Sounds like a very good formula for success to me.
That formula was tested in last year’s MHSAA Div. 1 Final, where Cass Tech socked the Michigan high school football world with a resounding 49-13 spanking of the Lordly Detroit Catholic Central. Sure that victory was great, but last year was last year.
No matter, Cass Tech came out strong, scoring on four big plays, forcing five turnovers. It all started when Jourdan Lewis scored on the first play from scrimmage. He beat double coverage and turned a 40-yard gain into an 89-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jayru Campbell.
“I just don’t think, I react,” Lewis said. “The safety was playing over the top. Jayru put it in the right spot.”
To show Campbell’s growth as a quarterback, he noted that the play was intended as a short pass, but the corner came up. “We both looked at each other and went with the go (pattern),” he said.
Five plays later 6-foot-2, 260 pound defensive lineman Kenton Gibbs scooped up a fumble and nimbly ran 58 yards for a touchdown and a 12-0 Cass Tech lead before I had finish eating my between game sandwich.
Another game-changing play happened in the fourth quarter as Cass Tech faced a fourth-and-9 and Campbell checked out of one play and into a draw that turned into a 26-yard gain.
“I think the strength of the quarterback,” Wilcher gladly noted, “like I told him on the telephone one night, ‘I don’t care about your arm right now, I just love the way you think on the football field.’ That’s what makes him so important to me right now.”
What had hurt the PSL in other years was the line play, but Cass Tech’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the game. Lead by seniors Gibbs, David Dawson and Dennis Finley the Technicians played the game in the trenches.
“”It feels great that all the hard work in practice and the off season has paid off,” Finley said. “This is what you play for, and, we did this as a team..”
Added Dawson: “I knew we had a chance to make history. We lost some tough games, but we did not lose confidence. We rebounded from that King loss in the City Playoffs and refocused as a team as we did last year.”
Campbell threw for 154 yards and Mike Weber, another sophomore, rushed for 186 yards on 20 carries. Weber did play in last season’s title game because of a knee injury. “I had to wait my turn,” he said. “I just ran with my blocks and had fun.”
The entire PSL and its alumni had fun, too.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII