Dakota Smith ran for 136 yards and four touchdowns and backfield mate Devin Howard added 113 yards and two scores, helping the Bucs (2-0 overall) pile up a staggering 547 total yards of offense in the blowout.
“Some of our new guys starting may not have got the reps last year, but they were still working hard in practice and pushing the starters every day,” said senior receiver Danny Cotter, who added 125 yards receiving and a touchdown in the balanced Bucs’ attack. “They’ve worked hard their entire high school career to get to this point and we’re now making the most of it.”
The Bucs were awarded the Coast Guard City USA trophy after the win, giving them two such awards in as many weeks. They also claimed the inaugural Coast Guard trophy awarded for defeating Traverse City Central at Thirlby Field last week.
Titans’ head coach Tim Wooer said it was a concern slowing down the Bucs’ passing game, especially considering his squad was depleted in the secondary with three key contributors out with injuries. However, the Bucs made it a point at establishing Smith early, running him nine times on Haven’s opening scoring drive.
Facing fourth down on the 2-yard line, Smith was initially wrapped up at the 3, but squirmed out of the arm tackle, collected his balance and raced around the left tackle for the short score. It kick-started Grand Haven’s tremendous first quarter, which put the Titans in a 20-0 hole.
“They’re a good football team, no doubt,” Wooer said. “But with us, we didn’t take care of business. There were far too many instances when we had them in third-and-long and we left them off the hook. But they also have a good quarterback who did a good job finding the open man down field and they turned it into a couple big throws.”
After his five touchdown debut (four pass, one rush) in his first varsity start last week, Bucs’ quarterback Scott Staal continued to show confidence in the pocket, completing 17-of-24 passes for 245 yards. His lone touchdown pass came on a beautiful play-action fake late in the first quarter, leaving Cotter wide open over the middle for a 40-yard score.
“When defenses prepare for shutting down the run, it really opens things up for our receivers,” Cotter said. “We do a lot of plays to set up the pass, which really makes the play-action effective. When the run game’s working, it leaves holes over the middle wide open.”
Grand Haven sophomore Isaac Newhouse picked off Titans’ quarterback Isaiah Hackney on the very next play, and the Bucs were back in business. Staal drove his squad 69 yards on just five plays, setting up Smith’s second touchdown of the quarter.
The Titans closed the first half with some momentum, capping a 16-play drive full of smash-mouth runs with a 1-yard score by senior Devin Mathews.
But the Bucs’ offense was too proficient, even when it was buried deep in its own territory. Behind Staal’s accuracy, and Smith’s elusiveness out of the backfield, the Bucs started at the 8 and then covered 92 yards in a shade under three minutes, ending with Smith’s third touchdown.
TC West tried to hang around in the third, closing to 27-14 on a 14-yard touchdown run by Matt Kirkey, but the Bucs responded with a 37-yard burst by Howard near the end of the third, then Smith’s fourth short-yardage score early in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“The kids have really stepped up,” Grand Haven coach Mike Farley said. “Guys like Torrey Appel, Norris Ellis, Jake Johnson and Matt Mulcahy did a great job up front. We had to replace three of five starters from that group, but they’ve worked extremely hard to make it a smooth transition. And with Dakota Smith and Devin Howard, we’ve got two explosive backs and plenty of receivers who can make plays.”
Traverse City West managed 210 yards on the ground, led by Griffin Forrester’s 55 yards on 15 carries. Hackney struggled under center, however, completing 6-of-13 passes for 67 yards with two interceptions.
Linebackers Aaron Gordon and C.J. Moll were the Bucs’ top tacklers with 6 1/2 apiece.
Cotter said the Bucs have tried not to look ahead to their next opponent, rival Rockford, who will host Grand Haven next Friday.
“It’s hard not to focus on them because they’re our No. 1 rival,” Cotter said. “To beat them it’s going to take a complete team effort and a great week of practice. I know we’ll be ready.”