DETROIT, Mich. - Turning the ball over twice in less than 90 seconds in a tight ball game usually spells doom to a football team - particularly late in a tight game.
But when you've got a defense like De La Salle's, exceptions can be made.
The Pilots overcame four second-half turnovers Saturday night, creating a timely one themselves that led to some points and helped them take down Detroit U-D Jesuit, 17-7, at Ford Field in Detroit.
Holding a 14-0 lead late in the third quarter, Jesuit's Carson Hinton picked off a De La Salle pass and took it 54 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead in half with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter. On the ensuing De La Salle possession, the Pilots again turned the ball over - this time on a fumble.
The tide seemed to be turning in favor of the Cubs. But on the next play from scrimmage, senior Justin Desmet came up big, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by senior Derrelle Murray on the Jesuit 42 yard line. Five plays later, senior Daniel Heppler connected for a 43-yard field goal to put his team back up by two scores, 17-7.
"Obviously I felt like the tides were shifting, we were losing some momentum and we needed the ball back," said Desmet, who finished the game with a pair of tackles, one for loss and shared a sack. "We needed some points and we went down and got that field goal. It was huge."
Like Desmet, coach Mike Giannone felt the moment had gotten away from his team, and getting the ball back at that particular moment was huge for his team.
"We throw the pick-six, we come back and fumble the ball, everything was going their way," the coach said. "(Turnovers) have to go quickly. Our defense can win us games, but we have to keep ourselves in ball games offensively. (Anthony) Stepnitz made a great throw early in the game to (Brett) Stanley, but at some point, our pass protection broke down. And we made quite a few mistakes offensively. We've got to clean it up. If we can do that, we might be competitive."
De La Salle's defense controlled the game for much of the night, allowing just 57 yards of total offense to the Cubs. Junior Tyler Gerling led the way with eight tackles and a pass breakup. Seniors Ricky Pearson (two pass breakups), Dylan Wilson, Michael Young, and sophomore Williams Beesley each recorded five tackles in their team's win. Young had 3 ½ tackles for loss. Three of Beesley's tackles were for negative yardage. The Pilots dropped the Cubs behind the line of scrimmage 12 times in the game.
"The defense just played lights out," Giannone said. "The coaches had them prepared. The kids are in the right spots. They're hungry. We're even playing pass defense, which was our nemesis for a while."
The De La Salle defense has not allowed a touchdown in four straight games.
"We're never guaranteed any points, so this is how (our defense) has to play every week," Desmet said. "We're capable of it, so we just have to go out and do it."
Offensively the Pilots were able to move the ball against the Cubs. Stepnitz finished 9-of-15 passing for 137 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown pass to junior Brett Stanley early in the second quarter. Stanley finished with a team-high 50 yards rushing and added 62 yards receiving. Senior Muzzie Kahari added 44 yards on the ground and senior Jack Herndon led the team with four receptions for 67 yards.
The win helps the Pilots move to 5-3 overall. They'll face West Bloomfield (7-1) next Friday night. The Lakers entered the season as the No. 1 team in Division 1. Their lone loss came to a 7-1 Birmingham Groves team earlier this season.
Giannone knows his team will be facing a big task if it wants to pick up the magical sixth win, which would automatically qualify the team for the playoffs.
"We're going to battle West Bloomfield," the coach said. "It's going to be a helluva game. It's going to test us."