Utica Eisenhower outlasts Romeo, 36-29, in second-round high school football playoff thriller
Jake Thielen | MLive.com, November 06, 2010 1:58 a.m.
Daniel Naert’s interception in overtime sealed a thrilling 36-29 win for Utica Eisenhower High School over Romeo High School in second-round high school football playoff action on Friday night.
On Romeo’s second play of the overtime period, Bulldog quarterback Blake Laurain looked to his right, and threw into the end zone for receiver Taylor Brynaert who was running a slant to the middle of the field. Naert stepped in front of the pass, intercepted it, then took a few steps out of the end zone before sliding to the ground, setting off a wild celebration.
Utica Eisnhower had taken the lead in overtime following quarterback Joe Zerafa’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Troy Zilli on the Eagles’ first play of the extra session.
Utica Eisenhower will move on next week to a quarterfinal game at Lake Orion, which defeated Grand Blanc, 54-14, on Friday.
Naert said his team had practiced all week on defending that type of play, and that helped him know where to be to make the big play.
“Every day in practice my coach was like ‘you got to get in this exact spot because that wide receiver’s going to be coming behind you,’ so I knew where to be” Naert said. “I saw the pass, got my drop and I knew it was going to be right there.
“It felt amazing, I didn’t even know what to think. I dropped to the ground, and everyone piled on me. I couldn’t breathe, but it was the most amazing feeling ever.”
Eisenhower coach Bob Lantzy agreed.
“We always talk about defense and special teams, those are the first things we work on, and big plays,” Lantzy said. “Did you see any big plays out there today?”
Lantzy said he was particularly pleased with his defense’s toughness around the goal-line and its ability to overcome a lack of size and still win games.
“This team, I used the word mystique – that’s all I could say at the beginning of the year and I’m still saying it right now,” Lantzy said.
“There’s a mystique about these kids and their ability to find a way to win.”
In a game marred by turnovers, it was fitting that the game ended on one.
Both teams had a chance to win the game in regulation, but each had costly turnovers.
After Brynaert’s second touchdown reception of the day tied the score at 29-29 with 1:53 remaining, Utica Eisenhower got the ball back with all three of its timeouts remaining.
Zerafa fumbled on the Eagles’ first play, and the ball was recovered by Romeo’s Garrett Hess, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to take the lead with great field position. However, Laurain fumbled on the Bulldogs’ second play, and Eisenhower recovered.
The Eagles drove all the way to the Romeo 29-yard line before wide receiver Yousseff Bujaidar’s fumble gave the ball back to the Bulldogs.
Utica Eisenhower turned the ball over four times, three times on fumbles and once on an interception.
Romeo turned the ball over five times in total. Laurain threw three interceptions and fumbled once, and running back Ryan Burkard fumbled four times, losing one.
Laurain finished the game with 71 yards on 9-of-17 passing. Burkard had 35 carries for 143 yards in the losing effort.
Romeo coach Jason Couch said he was proud of his team, regardless of the game’s final outcome.
“I’m really proud of how they played and the seniors, how well they led this year,” Couch said. “They’re a great group of young men.
“They’ve stepped up the level of Romeo football.”
Burkard’s first fumble set up Utica Eisenhower’s first score of the game, a 19-yard field goal by Daniel Gjocaj.
The Eagles had stretched their lead to 16-0 by the midway point of the second quarter following a 39-yard touchdown pass from Zerafa to Zilli and a 10-yard rushing touchdown by Zerafa.
“In the first half, we didn’t do anything wrong,” Lantzy said. “Everything was going right on offense.”
Zerafa finshed the game with 175 yards on 16-of-20 passing and four total touchdowns. Zilli had seven catches for 91 yards and two scores, and running back Mike Connolly had 14 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Zerafa said. “I’m just throwing good passes, attempting to throw good passes, and the wide receivers were catching them.”
Romeo got back into the game after linebacker Joe Bacci blocked a punt with 3:40 remaining in the second quarter. The ball landed right in the arms of Brian Roth, who returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.
Utica Eisenhower answered right back though, after a trick play worked to perfection. Bujaidar caught a pass from Zerafa and immediately lateraled the ball to Daniel Venditti, who was running up the right sideline. Vendetti was tackled at the Romeo 3-yard line, but he scored on a pass from Zerafa on the next play, giving the Eagles a 22-8 lead going into halftime.
Roth scored again for Romeo in third quarter on another unusual play. With the ball on the Eisenhower 25-yard line, Burkard ran the ball up the middle, but fumbled. Again, the ball bounced right into Roth’s hands, and he ran it up the left sideline for a touchdown.
Both schools are members of the Macomb Area Conference’s Red Division. Romeo defeated Utica Eisenhower 14-0 in the two teams’ previous meeting on Sept. 10.