ORCHARD LAKE — “We got through the first game.”
The relief on coach George Porritt’s face was obvious as his St. Mary’s squad dominated the second half for a season-opening 28-7 victory over Walled Lake Western on Thursday night on the Eaglets’ turf.
It was only nine days ago that the Michigan High School Athletic Association reinstated football as a fall sport after it had relegated gridiron action to the spring following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order lifting restrictions about safety protocols in the COVID-19 era.
Since Aug. 10, practices had been limited to helmet-only conditioning. On Sept. 10, teams were allowed full pads. Porritt at the time wondered aloud whether his team would be ready for its first game seven days later. Among his concerns were players breathing in mandated face coverings and tackling.
“It’s different,” said Porritt about his 32nd season as head coach. “But the kids have adapted, and you’ve got to deal with adverse conditions. We’re out here playing football, the game these kids love.”
St. Mary’s capitalized on a fumble recovery on Western’s 28-yard line on the game’s fourth play. Junior running back Tommy Bauss broke through left tackle for a 20-yard dash to the end zone.
Western tied the game 7-7 on the last play of the first quarter, a nine-yard completion by much-heralded quarterback Zach Trainor. Committed to Eastern Illinois, he threw for 3,850 yards and 44 touchdowns to lead the Warriors to a Division 2 final-four last season.
He was reduced to mere mortal status by an energetic Eaglets’ defense in the second half. “We made some adjustments,” smiled defense coach Sean Clouse. Trainor was limited to 161 yards on 17 completions and one interception (by junior Reid Zerki).
Most crucial of all, he was sacked eight times for 63 yards in losses by an aggressive defense front of Luke Selakowski, Luke Whalen, Charles Collins and Nick Williams.
The Eaglets took a short kickoff to start the third quarter 59 yards in five plays, capped by Bauss’ second touchdown, a 37-yard run. Bauss wound up with 151 yards in 17 carries.
“It was an outstanding performance. That’s what I expect out of him,” Porritt said.
Behind an offense line of center Vince DiFonzo, guards Anthony Ozog and Joe McLampy, and tackles Joe Janda and Adam Dolan, the Eaglets used nearly six minutes for a 58-yard march for a 21-7 lead, and nearly five minutes on a 62-yard drive for its final score.
Senior Lance Hillie scored the touchdowns on 2- and 1-yard plunges.
Senior Tommy Doman, who is committed to Michigan and is regarded among the top three high school kickers in the country, converted four extra points. His attempt for a 40-yard field goal was interrupted by a roughing-the-kicker penalty. He holds the school record with a 50-yarder.
The Eaglets’ quarterback, senior Jake Whitaker, threw just four passes, three incomplete and an interception. He was substituting for starter senior Jason Ross, who is in the final stages of a 14-day quarantine because of a contact with a virus-infected person.
It is assumed, but difficult to confirm from the sidelines, that players were wearing face coverings. A coach said that many masks were below the chin. In addition to a mask, players must also use a mouth guard, which used to be attached to the helmet, but now is a separate piece inserted by hand.
Spectators, limited to two persons per player, were all masked as well as the officials.
St. Mary’s next game is at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 26, against Warren De La Salle played at Wayne State University.
Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].