Better than OK, actually.
Grant Balino scored on a two-yard run with 6:46 left, and then the Titan defense recovered two fumbles down the stretch, as West defeated OK Red power Grand Haven 16-14 in a non-conference football clash.
The O-K Red is considered perhaps the best football conference in the state, a fact not lost on Titans coach Tim Wooer afterwards.
“Grand Haven’s been No. 1 or No. 2 in the OK (Red) the last three years — and Traverse City West just beat them,” he told his jubilant players at midfield.
It did not come easy. After Balino’s touchdown, Grand Haven marched to the West 15, but Cody Jonas fumbled and the Titans Zach McGuire recovered with just 2:25 left.
The Titans, however, could only run 20 seconds off the clock as the Bucs used all three of their timeouts. Taking possession at its 39, following a punt, Grand Haven quarterback Michael Penland hit Anthony Perrier on a short pass. West linebacker Matt Lowe jarred the ball loose and Dustin Tucker fell on it to seal the win.
“I was manned up with the tight end,” Lowe said. “I saw him release. I knew it was going to him. He’s one of their best athletes. I just made a play on it.”
Tucker was there to pounce on the fumble and give West the Coast Guard Trophy for the first time.
“(Lowe) made a phenomenal tackle that caused the fumble and I happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” Tucker said.
It was an exhilarating win for the Titans, who lost 16-12 with just over a minute to play at Kenowa Hills last week.
“We talked at half that big players make big plays in big games,” Wooer said. “In particular, our senior class, we put a lot of pressure on them to finish the job. We didn’t get it done last week. This is a shot in the arm. I thought we needed that shot last week, but I’ll take it and it will be a fun Labor Day weekend.”
Well, not so such fun for Grand Haven. The Bucs rallied with just over a minute to go last week to beat Traverse City Central 17-14. No such comeback Thursday.
“The bottom line was turnovers and penalties at inopportune moments,” Grand Haven coach Mike Farley said. “You can’t turn the ball over four times and win a football game. They didn’t have any turnovers. They protected the ball. We didn’t. We fumbled the ball three times and threw an inopportune interception (in the end zone). Twice on defense we had them on stops, but penalties kept their drives alive and they took it down and scored.”
Grand Haven, which had beaten West in each of the last three seasons, took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on Penland’s five-yard touchdown pass to Isaak Newhouse.
West responded early in the second quarter with a 25-yard field goal by Zach Gloshen. It stayed 7-3 until the second half.
The Titans took the kickoff and marched 67 yards in a time consuming six-minute drive. Balino went in from a yard out to put West ahead 10-7.
Grand Haven came right back with an 80-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard scoring run by Jonas.
West answered, though, with an 80-yard drive of its own, capped by Balino’s two-yard burst over the left side of the line on a fourth down play.
“That was fourth and goal from the two,” Wooer said. “It wasn’t from the one-foot line. And they brought 11. We blocked and got it in.”
And the defense made it stand.
“Grand Haven beat us last the three years,” Lowe said. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”
Titan quarterback Donny Cizek had a big second-half, completing all six of his passes for 78 yards. Five of those completions came in the winning drive.
Cizek finished 11 of 15 for 150 yards. He was also the Titans leading rusher with 62 yards.
Penland was 9 of 16 for 113 yards, most of that coming in the first half. He threw one interception when McGuire picked off a pass in the endzone after the Bucs reached the Titans 20. Jonas led all rushers with 108 yards. Abe Westerman added 85 as the Bucs were able to move the ball effectively throughout the game.
“That’s what happened to (West) last week,” Farley said. “They moved the ball, had 422 yards in offense, and only scored 14 points. The tables were turned this week.”
The Bucs will face Lowell next weekend while West opens Big North play with Gaylord.