PHILIPSBURG – The Drummond-Philipsburg football team got the quick start it was looking for but still needed to fight off a persistent Forsyth squad before laying claim to the 8-Man football championship Saturday afternoon at Granite High School.
Colton Grange threw for 280 yards, with 177 of them going to Jaxon Lee, and three touchdowns as the Titans outlasted the Dogies, 44-30, in a game that featured two teams worthy of being called champions.
The victory was the first for Drummond-Philipsburg, the Flint Creek co-op created four years ago when players from dwindling programs at Drummond and Granite high schools decided to join forces. That meant putting a bitter rivalry to rest for the sake of success on the field.
“I’m from the Philipsburg side,” Lee said. “But I love the Drummond kids. I’m best friends with all of them.”
Lee added that he would have felt the same way even if Flint Creek (12-0) had come up short in its bid for a perfect season.
Forsyth, which played at the Class B level last season, ended its season at 12-1.
“It was a great journey with these kids,” Forsyth coach Shawn Hollowell said. “You could tell what kind of kids they were out on the field. The kids fought hard and I’m proud of them.”
The Dogies used a potent running attack to knife their way through the season as well as their playoff opponents. They showed that off on their opening drive of the game, which started at their 39 because the Titans knew better than to kick deep to Paul Johnstone. Johnstone turned two kickoffs into touchdowns in the previous week’s semifinal win over Ennis.
Forsyth took the short field and had little trouble moving the ball down the field. The Dogies picked up 23 ground yards on their first three plays and it didn’t take long before they had a first down at the Titans’ 11.
Flint Creek made quick adjustments and forced Forsyth into a fourth-and-one situation at the 2. A fumbled snap ended the drive and gave the Titans the ball at their own 6.
Flint Creek turned its initial drive into points when Grange scampered for 8 yards and the game’s first touchdown.
The Titans scored on their second possess as well, with Lee taking a pitch and running down the right sideline for a 16-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds left in the opening quarter.
A 57-yard pass play from Grange to Luke Holland made it a 20-0 game with 4:46 left in the first half.
Anyone who thought the game was over by that point showed how little they knew about the Dogies.
Titans coach Mike Cutler knew better.
“We’ve got to find a way to score again. That’s what was going through my mind,” Cutler said of his team’s 20-point margin. “I knew they were going to score. There’s no doubt about that. We just needed to take care of our business. I knew Forsyth was going to come back. There was no doubt in my mind.”
Forsyth responded with a six-play drive, which consisted of five running plays, to score its first touchdown.
The Dogies’ next drive had the same result, this time ending with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Paul Johnstone, and the gap was cut to 20-16.
Things didn’t change much from there.
Every time the Dogies crept to within striking distance, the Titans found a way to put points back on the board.
The Titans’ responded to the Dogies’ 16 unanswered points with an impressive scoring drive that showcased the talent of Lee.
Grange threw a pair of 18-yard passes to Lee, as well as a 14-yarder to move the ball back down the field with time running out on the first half. A 22-yard scoring strike – also to Lee – put the Titans back up by 10 points (26-16) at the break.
“Personally, I prefer offense,” said Lee, a sophomore who also plays defensive back. “It’s more fun to me. That’s my favorite feeling ever. I love getting the ball thrown to me.”
A touchdown run by Michael Weber got Forsyth back to within two points of Flint Creek with 2:41 left in the third quarter but the Titans pulled away to a 32-24 lead on their next possession.
Another Michael Weber touchdown made it a 32-30 score, and once again the Titans responded accordingly.
The Dogies were led by quarterback Caleb Knoche and Nathan Weber, who each surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground.
“They were by far the toughest team we’ve played,” Grange said. “They were by far the most physical. They were just tough. They hit hard and they were disciplined. They were the best team by far that we’ve played.
“I think we had a bigger heart. We caught them off-guard a couple of times and that helped us get behind them. That was pretty-much what won the game, I think.”
Forsyth will say goodbye to nine seniors so the Dogies’ future looks uncertain at this point. Although they came up short in their biggest game of the season this year, Hollowell stressed that his team has no reason to be ashamed.
“We’re just proud of them,” he said. “It hurts, obviously. We came a long way to be undefeated at this point. I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed about, being 12-1. The kids fought hard and I’m just proud of them.”
The pride goes both ways. The Titans showed what can be accomplished, despite past differences, when everyone focuses on one common goal.
“It’s these two communities and these kids,” Cutler said. “Both communities supported this co-op four years ago and neither one of us would be here if we didn’t work together. We’re welded together now so it’s awesome.”