Pilots Battle, Fall to Mona Shores in D2 Final

DETROIT, Mich. —  A season unlike any before it, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent protocols and restrictions, concluded Friday for the De La Salle Pilots (7-5) with a 25-19 loss to Muskegon Mona Shores (12-0) in the MHSAA Division 2 state championship game. 

The game marked the Pilots' third state title game appearance in four years and also the Purple and Gold's third appearance in a state final game against Mona Shores. The previous two times came in 2014 (a 44-8 victory) and 2018 (a 29-16 win). 

The Pilots started off slowly on offense. They were held scoreless in the first half, and trailed the Sailors, 13-0, going into halftime. Brady Rose and Elijah Johnson accounted for Mona Shores' two first-half scores. Meanwhile, junior Will Beesley and senior Jayden Conklin shined on defense for De La Salle in the opening half with 10 tackles and eight tackles, respectively. 

The Pilots received the ball to kick off the second half and proceeded to march right down the field. Senior quarterback JC Ford spearheaded the nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive with seven rushes for 37 yards. He capped off the drive himself with a four-yard rushing score. It cut the Pilots' deficit to six, 13-7, with 9:12 to play in the third quarter. 

Freshman running back Rhett Roeser also chipped in with two big runs during the possession. He accumulated 21 yards on two carries during the drive. The momentum continued to shift in favor of DLS, when junior defensive back Dionte Dandridge picked off a pass from Rose with 5:41 to play in the quarter. It was Dandridge's third interception on the season. Conklin helped force the INT by deflecting the pass. The Pilots held the Sailors off the scoreboard and limited them to less than 50 yards of total offense in the third quarter. 

The Sailors scored on a Keondre Pierce TD run to start the fourth quarter, making it a 19-7 game, after a failed two-point conversion. The Pilots answered right back, with a rushing score of their own. Ford took it on the ground 52 yards to the house, making it a one-score game, 19-13, with 7:58 to play. It capped off a three-play, 72-yard drive for the Pilots. 

Dan Rohn and DLS's defense did their very best to keep Rose in check, but in the end, were unable to limit his production for long enough. Rose found the end zone with 1:47 to go in the fourth quarter for his second score of the game and the Sailors' final TD of the afternoon. The Purple and Gold scored once more before the conclusion of the contest, via a five-yard QB keeper from sophomore Brady Drogosh with 0:16 to play.

The Pilots fought tooth and nail in what was a physical game between the two Div. 2 state powers. Beesley finished with a game-high 20 tackles, while Conklin recorded 14 in the contest. Offensively, senior running back Brett Stanley amassed a team-high 198 all-purpose yards, including 102 kick return yards. Additionally, Ford logged a team-high 107 yards on the ground, to go along with his two scores. 

Despite the Pilots not capturing the win, the 2020 season will easily go down as one of the most memorable in program history. They went just 2-4 in the regular season, yet followed it up by pulling off five straight wins in the playoffs -- and despite a halt in play -- before falling to Mona Shores.

This Pilots team made De La Salle students, faculty and staff, and alums from far and near proud with how it overcame a myriad of adverse situations throughout the course of the season. And for that, it certainly has no reason to hang its head in the aftermath of Friday's state title tilt.

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