MARQUETTE - The defending champion Martin Clippers came from behind in the fourth quarter to score a heart-breaking 30-26 win over Inland Lakes in the 8-Player Division One State Championship Game on Saturday at the Superior Dome.
The Bulldogs dominated the early parts of the game, building a 14-0 halftime lead on the strength of two outstanding touchdowns by Jacob Willey.
The first score came early in the second quarter when Aiden Fenstermaker threw it downfield and found Willey inside the ten-yard line. He battled with a defender and was just able to reach the ball across the goal line for the game’s first score and an 8-0 lead.
Then, with time running out at the end of the first half - Fenstermaker again found Willey, this time in the front corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown as time expired on the first half. The two-point try was no good, and the Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead into the locker room.
Inland Lakes added to their lead late in the third quarter, after stopping the Clippers on a fourth down, Fenstermaker found Andre Bradford on a crossing route, and he made a couple of nice moves to break free and take it down the sideline for a 65-yard score to give the Bulldogs a 20-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Clippers got some wind in their sails by intercepting a Fenstermaker pass on the first snap of the fourth quarter, converting that a few plays later into a short Abe Dykstra run to cut the gap to 20-6.
The Bulldogs responded by marching down the field, and Fenstermaker capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to make it 26-6 with just 6:35 to play.
Martin came right back down the field, getting a short TD run from Haylen Buell to make it 26-14.
The Bulldogs got the ball back and took it down the field, burning off all but 1:38 of game time before turning it over on downs deep in Martin territory.
The Clippers were able to score quickly, getting it down the field, and then getting a 10-yard touchdown catch from Taegan Harris on a swing pass to make it a 26-22 game after the two-point conversion with just 0:33 remaining.
Martin then was able to recover an onside kick, with Mike Branch falling on the ball for the Clippers.
With time running out, quarterback Gavin Meyers could not find anyone to throw to, so he scrambled out of the pocket, and he was able to drive into the end zone just inside the pylon with 0:05 left to give the Clippers the lead at 30-26.
Inland Lakes would have one last desperation heave to try to re-take the lead, but the pass would fall incomplete, setting off a wild celebration on the Clippers’ sideline, and utter despondency on the Bulldogs’ half of the field.
“No one in the state, based on any rankings, based on any newspaper articles, based on anything expected us to do what we did,” Inland Lakes head coach Travis Meyer said after the game. “And even the ones that weren’t totally shocked that we were here didn’t think it was going to be a 4-point game. Regardless of when the points were scored, that’s a 4-point game. That’s a hell of a State Championship.”
“We played our butts off,” Meyer said. “We played right up until the end, and they had more gas in the tank.”
The Bulldogs see their dream season come to a close with the program’s first 8-Player State Finals appearance, a runner up finish, and a 11-2 overall record. The Bulldogs graduate just five players from the state finals roster.