DETROIT – Last season, some thought the De La Salle Pilots were lucky to win a state championship, let alone reach the finals.
Well, with De La Salle going back to the state championship this year, it is safe to assume that it wasn’t luck, it was skill and an overall passion and heart to do something great.
On the day after Thanksgiving, the Pilots won their second consecutive Division 2 state crown by defeating Muskegon Mona Shores, 29-16, at Ford Field.
Pilots’ backup quarterback Nolan Schultz rushed for three touchdowns and hit senior captain Jacob Dobbs on a 44-yard TD pass to lift De La Salle to its third state championship in five years, and the second over the team from west Michigan.
While Schultz led the offensive charge, Dobbs (16 tackles, forced fumble) and Devin Campbell (10 tackles) paced the Pilots’ aggressive defense.
“I think our defense was lights out,” Giannone said. “They’ve been that way all year. They were tested today, and I’d like to complement our defensive staff, Brandon Bush, Mike Shortt, Mike Szatkowski, Reuben Simpson and Andy Crowley. Those guys worked extremely hard to prepare. This was a tough team to prepare for.”
Heading into the finals, Mona Shores wasn’t held under 33 points in any single game. The Sailors’ high-octane, veer offense averaged more than 46 points. But against the Pilots’ extremely physical defensive bunch, the Sailors were limited to two touchdowns and a field goal.
“It’s all you can ask for as high school players, to leave a good legacy behind,” Dobbs said. “We have great defensive coaches and it’s pretty fun when you have coaches that trust you to go make plays and they put you in the right spots. That’s why we were able to make so many plays.
“Our defensive coaches were right on with what they were gonna do. We knew they were gonna try to run the veer with a lot of option-type plays, and we were able to stop them.”
De La Salle’s defense was tested early when the Sailors attempted to convert on fourth down – twice. Both times resulted in the Pilots’ offense taking over with great field possession.
The Sailors’ second failed conversion led to the Pilots grabbing a first-quarter lead on Schultz’s first of three 1-yard QB sneaks. The 7-0 lead was set up by Joshua DeBerry’s 50-yard catch-and-run to the Sailors’ 10-yard line.
Schultz was magnificent this season, stepping in for quarterback Anthony Stepnitz, who went down with a season-ending leg injury in Week 4. Schultz, a senior, completed 8-of-13 passes for 189 yards, and rushed for 57 yards on 10 carries.
The game went to intermission tied, 7-7, after a Pilots’ turnover led to Mona Shores’ first score.
De La Salle imposed its will in the second half, scoring on all three offensive series, including a 44-yard TD strike from Schultz to Dobbs on the fifth play of the third quarter that gave the Pilots a 14-7 lead.
The Sailors answered with a field goal, trimming their deficit to 14-10.
Schultz scored from the 1-yard line, and Daniel Heppler’s extra point put the Pilots up 21-10.
Mona Shores then connected on a fourth-down TD pass to slice the Pilots’ lead to 21-16 with under eight minutes to play in regulation.
Schultz scored again from the 1-yard line before delivering a pass to tight end Mike McGinnity on a two-point conversion.
“It was a surreal moment, and nobody expected us to go this far,” Schultz said. “But everybody on our team knew that we were capable of this and we really showed it.”