DETROIT, Mich. - The hits could be heard up in the stands Friday night at Tom Adams Field in Detroit.
De La Salle Collegiate wanted to be heard. And it left no doubt about it after a resounding, 14-3 victory over Catholic League rival Detroit Catholic Central.
The Pilots dominated up front and on both sides of the ball, thoroughly winning the battle in the trenches from start to finish. De La Salle amassed 205 yards rushing while limiting the Shamrocks to just 31 net yards.
"It starts in the trenches and we won that battle," said senior defensive end Michael Young, one of the anchors of that line. "Our D-line is always connecting and later in the game our secondary started clicking, and that just brought it home for us - it sealed the deal."
De La Salle's offense set the tone early, scoring on the first drive of the game. Senior Muzzie Kahari's 43-yard run helped set up the team's first touchdown, which came on a 3-yard run by junior Brett Stanley with 7:21 remaining in the first quarter.
From there, the defense took over. Catholic Central quarterback Declan Byle completed 8-of-20 passes for 81 yards, but those yards were spread out and led to just a single scoring drive, that ending with a 35-yard field goal by Charlie Mentzer midway through the third quarter that cut the lead to 7-3.
The Pilots trumped that score with a long scoring drive themselves. Aided by a 33-yard pass from senior Anthony Stepnitz to Stanley, an 11-yard connection from Stepnitz to senior Justin Desmet and a tough, 12-yard run down to the 1-yard line by Kahari, it was Stepnitz who punched it in from a yard out to give his team a 14-3 advantage.
Kahari led a balanced run attack for De La Salle, finishing with a team-high 66 yards rushing. Stanley was right behind him with 64 yards (in addition to 74 yards receiving), while Stepnitz and senior Michael Stritzinger had 42 and 33 yards, respectively. Stepnitz also completed 7-of-13 passes for 105 yards. He did throw two interceptions, but one was a harmless throw at the tail end of the first half and Catholic Central could do nothing after intercepting a pass early in the fourth quarter.
Still, the story of the game was the play of De La Salle's defense. Senior Jordan Rogers led the team with nine tackles. Sophomore William Beesley collected eight tackles, while Desmet had five and senior Braden Babich and junior Tyler Gerling had four each. Gerling and senior Ricky Pearson also had two pass breakups each.
"Brandon Bush, our defensive coordinator, Mike Shortt, Kalani Muragin, Mike Szatkowski and Andy Crowley, Rock (Marcone), they're just doing a great job coaching that side of the ball. They put the kids in the right position and tonight the kids made some good plays. I thought our defensive line played extremely well."
Catholic Central head coach Dan Anderson was at a loss for words after seeing his team put up a season-low three points.
"(De La Salle) was just better than us tonight," said Anderson, whose team has scored just 75 points in its first six games. "They kicked our butt up front. We've got to look at the film and see what we need to do better. Our defense did a very good job, but we've got to be able to score more than three points."
Senior Brendin Yatooma led Catholic Central (3-3 overall, 1-1 CHSL) with 11 solo tackles. Freshman Brayden Courser had 10 solo tackles and seniors Easton St. Clair and Cody Daraban each had an interception in their team's loss.
It was a game the Pilots (3-3, 1-2) had to have. And everyone knew it coming in.
"Right now we're treating every game as a must-win," Desmet said. "Obviously our record really didn't show how good we are. We really are treating every game like a must win. It started with CC, and now it's Davison. We just have to keep on going."
The immediate road ahead doesn't get any easier for the Pilots, who face off against sixth-ranked Davison on Oct. 11. The Cardinals are 6-0 and have outscored their opponents 331-61 this season. Giannone is well aware of this and knows his team will have to be prepared next week.
"Everyone likes to look back and say, 'Well if you'd have won these other two,' well I'm looking forward. We won this game and we're very grateful and fortunate to win this game. We prepared hard for this game and now we're preparing for Davison.
"Our goals are still in front of us. We've got some big things to do, but I think the kids are starting to believe again."