West Bloomfield senior wideout Taj Mustapha (left) runs downfield during a Division 1 regional final with Utica Eisenhower Nov. 10. Mustapha and the Lakers defeated Ike 28-25 to secure the program's first-ever regional title.

West Bloomfield senior wideout Taj Mustapha (left) runs downfield during a Division 1 regional final with Utica Eisenhower Nov. 10. Mustapha and the Lakers defeated Ike 28-25 to secure the program's first-ever regional title.

Photo by Donna Agusti

West Bloomfield rallies past Eisenhower for first regional crown

The Lakers overcame an early 10-0 deficit

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published November 11, 2017 | Updated November 13, 2017 1:17pm

UTICA — Despite three turnovers, zero first downs in the first quarter and an early 10-0 deficit, West Bloomfield High did just enough to make history.

The Lakers (10-2) used a second-half rally to earn a 28-25 decision over Utica Eisenhower Nov. 10 in a Division 1 regional final at a frigid Swinehart Field. The victory marked the program's first regional title, setting up a Nov. 18 date with Detroit Cass Tech in the state semifinals.

"We're blessed and fortunate, this is incredible," West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy said amidst a raucous on-field celebration. "It means a lot to get this one, it really means everything. We're a program just scratching the surface of greater things to come."

Coming into this season, West Bloomfield had only reached the playoffs five times in its entire history, posting two total postseason victories. The win over Ike (11-1) marked the club's third playoff success in 2017 alone, marking the group's ninth straight victory since starting the campaign with a pair of losses.

"We started the year 0-2 and that was because we didn't finish things," Bellamy explained. "We knew if we finished and played to the best of our ability we'd give ourselves our shot. We have unbelievable resolve. We got in the locker room at halftime and talked knowing we've been down before but knew we would come back out and fight."

Ike held a 17-9 lead at halftime as the Lakers only collected five total first downs in that span, seeing two drives end with an interception and a fumble. Senior quarterback Bryce Veasley quickly swung momentum back to the Lakers, finding junior wideout Tre Mosley for an 86-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half.

"That was a halftime adjustment," Bellamy remarked. "We thought our guys were better than their guys and we wanted to attack some holes we saw in the defense. We put the ball in the air. We've got the best receiving corps in the midwest and we got the best quarterback in the state, he handled business for us."

Committed to Bowling Green, Veasley finished with over 300 yards of offense. Bellamy praised Veasley and his other upperclassmen, but also highlighted a group of youngsters on his roster.

"Everyone is talking about our college bound kids, but we were playing freshmen and sophomores in pivotal moments," Bellamy said. "These kids stepped up when we needed it most."

West Bloomfield's next drive highlighted that as freshman running back Donovan Edwards found Mosley for a 24-yard touchdown pass on a trick play.

"That was a turning point for sure," Bellamy said of the halfback pass. "We thought we could get them on that and it worked."

That play gave the Lakers a 22-17 advantage, their first lead in the contest. That score held till the end of the third quarter before Eisenhower senior quarterback Jack Morris put his club back on top with a 40-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion. 

Ike missed a 30-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining to keep the scoreboard at 25-22. The Lakers answered with a game-winning march that culminated in a Veasley 3-yard touchdown run with less than a minute remaining.

"It was a great game, a regional final with two very good teams playing and it came right down to the end like you thought it would," Eisenhower coach Chris Smith said. "They have great athletes and a quarterback that can throw the ball. There was nothing we weren't expecting, there was no adjustment we could make. They just have some great athletes that made plays."

While Ike did not suffer a turnover, two missed field goals from 22 and 30 yards loomed large in the final margin.

"We missed those two field goals and that's definitely magnified but what are you going to do?" Smith lamented. "These are high school kids and it's really cold out. I thought our kids played an outstanding game tonight."

With the temperature dipping well below freezing, the cold night served as a harsh backdrop to a disappointing end to the season for Smith and his roster.

"It's been an outstanding two-year run here," Smith said of his group which reached the state semifinal last year. "But Eisenhower has been doing this for 45 years so it's really not a two-year run, it's a 45-year run. This team has done a great job of continuing the tradition of Eisenhower football, and I'm very proud of the way they played."

Ike earned back-to-back Macomb Area Conference Red titles and only suffered two losses in two calendar years, both deep in the playoffs.

"This senior class was outstanding," Smith said. "They only lost these two games in the last two years. They gave it everything they had and certainly left a legacy here."