Hazel Park tops Avondale in OAA Blue opener

Logan Hamilton-Mathy and Derrick Hinton Jr. lead the way

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published August 31, 2017

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AUBURN HILLS — Hazel Park High started league play with a victory, topping Auburn Hills Avondale 24-21 Aug. 31 on the road.

The Oakland Activities Association Blue Division opener was marred by mistakes on both sides. The two clubs combined for 14 fumbles, 12 penalties, three interceptions and three turnover on downs.

“A ‘W’ is a ‘W,’ so we’ll take it even though it was ugly,” Vikings coach Kyle Rowley said. “I wish it was a little cleaner, but it is a great start for the division. The fumbling, that’s fundamentals, Day One stuff. We just have to go back to the drawing board and get healthy. It’s a good thing there’s a holiday weekend to give everyone a few days.”

The first quarter showcased both teams' struggles, featuring only five first downs and five fumbles. Avondale (0-2, 0-1 Blue) fumbled on its first play from scrimmage and then coughed up the ball three plays later on a botched pitch play. In between, Hazel Park (1-1, 1-0 Blue) fumbled on its fifth offensive play.

Avondale’s second turnover led to the contest’s first score as Hazel Park senior quarterback Damien Ewald found senior wide receiver Logan Hamilton-Mathy for a 12-yard score.

“We had too many turnovers in the first half, it's plain and simple, we can’t win games that way,” Yellow Jackets coach Edward Couturier said. “We have to improve on that, the option is our bread and butter, and we can’t put it on the ground.”

After forcing a turnover on downs, Hazel Park took over at its own 45. The Vikings notched three first downs before Ewald and Hamilton-Mathy hooked up again, this time from 7 yards out.

“It was all my quarterback,” Hamilton-Mathy said. “I was able to get separation with a little move, and he threw a perfect ball every time.”

After forcing and recovering two more Avondale fumbles, Hazel Park notched one more turnover in the half’s final minute as senior defensive back Isaac Manier made a leaping interception. Manier returned the pick 70 yards for a touchdown, putting the Vikings up 18-0 heading into the locker room.

“The defense played absolutely great, they saved everything for us, they really won the game for us,” Rowley said. “We have to pick it up with the offense, it’s on them now, and we know we need to shape that up.”

Avondale showed signs of life after the break, scoring on its first drive of the second half. Junior running back Derrick Hinton Jr. rattled off a 63-yard touchdown run to get the Yellow Jackets on the board.

“We didn’t quit in the second half which is great to see,” Couturier said. “We got a little momentum when we came out and scored. We just put ourselves in the position where we had to keep chasing, and we can’t do that.”

Hazel Park junior defensive back Cameron Wyatt notched an interception on Avondale’s second drive, returning it to the 15-yard line. That set up another Ewald to Hamilton-Mathy connection, scoring on a 26-yard pass. The senior wideout said after the game the three scores are the most he’s ever had in a single game.

“I’ve had (Hamilton-Mathy) for three years, and he’s a fantastic kid,” Rowley said. “Every day, every practice, every game he just gets better and better. He surprises me even when I don’t think I can be surprised. He’s a great leader and ballplayer.”

Seconds after Hamilton-Mathy’s third score, Hinton Jr. recorded his second, returning the kickoff for a touchdown. On Avondale’s next drive, Hinton Jr. scored again, catching a 10-yard touchdown catch. That possession marked the first and only time Avondale reached the red zone during the contest.

In last week’s loss to Troy High, Hinton Jr. scored on both a punt and kick return giving him five total touchdowns for the 2017 campaign.

“He’s had a great start, he’s really coming into his own,” Couturier said. “This is his third year on varsity. Every year he’s getting better and gaining more confidence."

The final play of the game was a Hazel Park interception on an Avondale attempted hail mary.

“Our linebackers came out hard, and hit them in the mouth,” Hamilton-Mathy said. “We were able to force a lot of turnovers and take control. This brings us momentum for the rest of the year, and hopefully we can keep it and get to the playoffs.”

Hazel Park finished the contest with nine total takeaways.

“This was a great team win, especially defensively,” Rowley said. “We had a pretty decent first half and then stubbed our toe in the second half. That comes with the territory, even after being here four years, this group is still not used to winning. They take a single bad play as a loss, and we have to get rid of that mentality.”

The Vikings enjoy the first home game of the season next week, hosting Royal Oak High at 7 p.m. Sept. 8.

“We just have to get that offense going,” Rowley said. “The defense is pretty good but could even be better. We just have to find something to complement that defense. We will work on getting better every day.”

Avondale hits the road for the first time next week, heading to Ferndale at 7 p.m. Sept. 8.

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