In the traditional style I formation or wishbone offenses, three yards usually resulted in a cloud of dust.
In Zeeland, John Shillito’s wing-T, three yards oftentimes results in two points. The Dux converted on three of four two-point conversions in their Division 3 regional final against Lowell and that proved to be the difference in a thrilling 30-27 victory.
“In this style offense you should be able to get three yards every time you run the football,” Shillito explained.
While Zeeland West’s 75 percent conversion rate was enough, a number of big defensive stops are what secured the Dux a tough, hard fought, second straight regional title and ran its winning streak to 24 in a row.
“We got some big plays (four stops) against a good offensive team,” Shillito said. “At this point in the tournament you don’t win nothing but tough games.”
The Dux also came out of the blocks fast and punctuated its opening drive with a rare 56-yard touchdown pass from Casey Brinks to Dakota Geurink. A two-point conversion gave Zeeland an 8-0 lead.
“Lowell came out ready to play off tackle. I was surprised we were able to get a guy open down field on our first possession,” Shillito explained.
The Red Arrows , however, a perennial state power, did not freeze up in the 30 degree temperature. It hung around for the full 48 minutes, helping to author one of the states’s top regional games between two of its top state ranked teams.
“We did everything right. The kids played and competed well ,” said Lowell football coach Noel Dean. “It came down to our first and last possessions of the first half, our last possession of the game and their two-point conversions. I’m proud of our kids’ performance tonight.”
Trailing 30-27, Lowell’s defense forced Zeeland to punt from its own 34 yard line with a little under five minutes to play in the game. The Red Arrows on its final possession, marched from its own 40 yard line to the Dux 41 on four consecrative running plays where it faced third and four. Instead of continuing with a rushing game that amassed over 300 yards on the ground, the Red Arrows chose to go to the air. Two incomplete passes ended the young Arrows state title journey.
Asked if his young squad had exceeded his expectations, Dean was quick and sharp with his response. “We can’t exceed our expectations, this is the regional finals. The Lowell program always has high expectations.”
Zeeland scored touchdown on two of its three first half possessions. It’s second touchdown of the half came on a nine-yard run by Darius Perisse. A two-point conversion increased its lead to 10 (16-6).
Lowell made it 16-13 midway through the second quarter on a three yard burst by Max Dean. The junior also tallied Lowell’s fist touchdown of the night on a nine yard run to open the second quarter.
The Dux churned up seven minutes of the third quarter with a 14-play, 73 scoring drive capped off by Hick Jasch’s four yard scamper, increasing Zeeland West’s lead to 11 at 24-13 with its third two-point conversion.
Lowell, as all championship programs do, responded with a 13-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. Dean capped it off with a three-yard run cutting its deficit to 24-19, the two-point conversion failed.
Zeelands\’s Jasch opened the final eight minutes with a six yard touchdown run, pushing the Dux lead to 11 at 30-19, the two-point conversion failed.
Lowell, again followed up a Dux touchdown with one of its own. This time, the Red Arrows traveled 79 yards with Dean bursting through for a 20-yard yard touchdown run, his fourth of the night. The two-point conversion was good and Lowell was within three at 30-27.
Dean finished with 167 yards on the ground on 32 carries.
Lowell quarterback Ryan Stevens ran 134 yards and threw for 78.
“Dean is a much more powerful running back than he looks on film,” Shillito explained. “Lowell is also a much faster team than its film might indicate. Some of that is due to it plays in the mud (on natural turf)”
Geurink led the Dux rushing attack with 117 yards.
“Playing a team as good as Lowell gave us motivation and makes this regional title even more special,” Geurink explained.
Shillito gave a shout out to his defensive coordinator Gregg Hoogland. “The 30-27 score indicated our defense played well against a perennial state power.”
The Zeeland coach added praise for defensive back Evan McDonald. “He was the key to our defensive effort . Evan made it difficult for Lowell to get the ball to their main guy (Gabe Steed),” Sillito explained. The Lowell junior had two catches for 36 yards.
Lowell’s season ends at 10-2. Zeeland, now 11-0 advances to play the winner of Petoskey and Muskegon.