There’s an old saying from the 1960s — “Dare to struggle, dare to win.”
Wayland was down only 7-0 for the first 22 minutes of its homecoming football game against undefeated and state-ranked East Grand Rapids. But after that, things went south really quickly in a 40-14 defeat.
There was just 2:20 left in the half with the Wildcats giving their heralded visitors a tussle and they had the football fourth down at their own 12. But their ensuing punt was partially blocked and went only 26 yards.
East didn’t waste any time taking advantage. Quarterback Michael Malewitz tossed a 23-yard pass to Ben Forstner, who made a diving catch along the sidelines at the 15-yard line. Though the referee on top of the play ruled he stayed in bounds for the catch, few would have blamed Wayland coach Mike Doupe if he threw out the red flag challenge. Unfortunately, high school football doesn’t provide for reviews and instant replays.
On the very next play, Malewitz looked like he was going to scramble with a run and instead tossed a 15-yard scoring strike to Connor Davis and the Pioneers went up 13-0 with just 1:41 left until intermission. And the brief, but horrible, nightmare wasn’t finished.
The Wildcats, their first offensive play, fumbled the ball over to defender John Shelton IV at their own 20 and on the very next play Malkewitz hooked up with Forstner for a 20-yard TD pass to turn East Grand Rapids’ stunningly small lead into a much more comfortable 20-0 cushion as the two teams went to their respective locker rooms.
The nightmare still wasn’t over.
The ‘Cats gambled with an onside kick to start the second half and East pounced on the pigskin at its own 44. After Wayland was whistled for a face mask penalty and a short pass, Davis broke several would-be tacklers and rambled his way to the end zone from 32 yards, and suddenly it was 26-0 and the threat of a rout was looming larger.
The Wildcats got a huge lift in the ensuing kickoff when Caleb Wolf scooped up the deep kick and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to account for his team’s first points on the scoreboard.
Jalen Broussard returned the following kickoff to just past midfield and it looked like East was going to strike quickly again, especially when Malkewitz hooked up with Davis on an apparent 11-yard TD pass, but it was nullified by a holding penalty. Wayland held East on the next series and took possession of the ball on downs on its own 14-yard line.
The defensive stand merely forestalled the inevitable, as Wayland lost yardage on its three plays then botched a punt with a fumble smothered by Chris Owens only two yards away from the end zone. Davis waltzed into the end zone from there on the next play, and now it was 33-7.
Another miscue led to the Pioneers’ last touchdown of the night, as Eric Solberg picked off a pass at the Wildcats’ 36. Two plays later swept left end on a 27-yard TD scamper to make it 40-7.
So, between two minutes to go until halftime and 4:44 left in the third period, East had put 33 of its 40 points on the board. The Pioneers did the bulk of their scoring in a little more than nine minutes, with a little help from Wayland’s two fumbles, a pass interception and a failed onside kick attempt.
Wayland did put together its best offensive drive in the fourth quarter, when junior QB Carson Sevigny’s passing touch came alive. He clicked on several passes, to Ian Carpenter, Ben Barnes, Wolf and finally to Devin Jakey for seven yards and the only offensive touchdown for the home team during the evening.
The Wildcats twice halted drives by talented and versatile East Grand Rapids offense in the first and second quarters. Aside from Malkewitz breaking loose on a 65-yard TD run midway in the first period, the defense would bend, but not break, and some slippery running by Sevigny enabled Wayland to keep the football out of the East offense’s hands.
Coming up with some heady and timely defensive plays were Mason Miller, Ashton Ordway and Seth Sevenski-Popma, all with sacks in the Pioneers’ backfield. Miller’s was the most spectacular, a 16-yard sack of Malkewitz at midfield that halted a serious East scoring effort.
The Wildcats, now 3-4 overall, this Friday will play at Grand Rapids Christian and then will close out the season at home against undefeated Forest Hills Central.