Utica High tops Utica Ford II in thriller

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published September 9, 2017

STERLING HEIGHTS — Utica High and Utica Ford II clashed for the 27th time in their rivalry Sept. 8, creating a back-and-forth classic that culminated in a Chieftains conquest by a count of 27-23.

Six lead changes were cast in the contest, with Utica collecting the conference victory via a strong running game. Senior halfback Leonard Casem controlled the Chieftains (2-1, 1-1 Macomb Area Conference White Division) charge, compiling over 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

“I was just running the ball hard,” Casem said. “Before the game, we were talking about how we needed to just go out there and pound it down their throats every single play, and that’s what we did.”

Casem credited his offensive line, citing them as the crew that ensured his running lanes were not closed.

“I know all of the attention is on me, but it should definitely go to them," he said. "They were opening up holes for me the whole time.”

Utica coach Matt Marulli agreed, complementing the conduct of his tailback and linemen.

“(Casem) was everything for us, he was our offense tonight,” Marulli said. “We told him he was going to get a lot of carries, and he answered the call. Our offensive line did great too, we challenged them all week long, and they stepped up. (Casem) was just a workhorse back there, getting banged up a lot, but he just kept getting up and running hard.”

A timely takeaway concluded the tilt, as the Falcons nearly notched a game-winning tally. With less than two minutes still on the scoreboard, Ford flew down the field. With under 20 seconds remaining, Utica senior defensive back Tyler Siluk forced a fumble. Fellow senior defensive back Kavon Higdon fell on the loose ball at the 5-yard line to seal the score.

“Around here, we have confidence in our defense,” Marulli said. “We knew somebody had to step up and make a play, and they did. I’m very proud of everybody.”

A seesaw first half ended with Utica leading 14-10. Ford (1-2, 1-1 White) dominated the third quarter, utilizing points off turnovers. Junior linebacker Hunter Osantowske recorded an interception for the Falcons which immediately led to points. On the next play after the pick, senior quarterback Noah Heide hit senior wideout Jalen Thomas for six, a 42-yard strike.

On Utica’s next possession, Ford pounced on a fumble, putting the Falcons in a great position to go up by two scores. Following the fumble, the Falcons notched five first downs, two of which were fielded by facemask penalties. However, the possession stalled in the red zone, forcing a Ford field goal.

“That was really good defense on their part after that fumble, we really could’ve used a touchdown there,” Ford coach Todd Koehn said. “We would’ve gone up by two scores, and that could’ve sealed the game, but that’s not what happened.”

The fourth featured a scoring frenzy. Casem scored on a 19-yard scamper to put Utica up 21-20. The Falcons responded with another good drive, but once again Koehn’s club had to settle for three points via senior kicker Alejandro Steinwascher.

Steinwascher was perfect on the night, connecting from 27, 29 and 25 yards. Koehn called his kicker clutch, but he wished he did not have to call on him so often.

“One thing that’s changed around here is that these kids don’t want to keep losing anymore, so effort was not a question tonight,” Koehn said. “These kids came out and worked hard, and it didn’t come down to one play. We’ve been in every game this year and our program is changing, and we can feel the difference. We just have to convert some of these field goals into touchdowns, and we’ll get some wins.”

With 5:07 remaining, Utica started at their own 35-yard line. Casem churned up the necessary yards and the clock, capping off his night with a 10-yard score.

“They’re big and physical up front, and we weren’t physical enough to stop that,” Koehn said. “They have that off-tackle power run they kept going to. They’re probably the biggest line we’ll see all season, even bigger than (Macomb) Dakota and (Utica) Eisenhower probably.”

A failed two-point conversion concluded the scoring. Ford’s fateful fumble led to a final kneel down.

“These kids have fight, and I’m extremely proud of that,” Koehn said. “We have overcome a lot of adversity, and we whittled down our roster to kids that have earned their way here and that shows in practice and games. They do not give up when adversity hits. We possibly could be 3-0 right now, but Utica played well. But you can’t question our effort, and we can build off of this.”

Ford will look to rebound next week, hosting Grosse Pointe South at 7 p.m. Sept. 15.

Utica will hope to continue its conference success, hosting New Baltimore Anchor Bay at 7 p.m. Sept. 16. Marulli said his club will savor its success, the Chieftains second straight victory over Ford.

“This is huge, its great for the kids, they love it,” Marulli said. “Every game in the White is going to be a challenge. A win like this shows shows we're ready for it.”