OKEMOS- The Okemos Chiefs (6-3, 4-2) won their fourth straight must-win game and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 after defeating the East Lansing Trojans (1-8, 1-6) by a score of 20-13 Friday night.
Chiefs Running back Chris Nelson credited their success in the game, and the season, to the strength of the Chiefs’ togetherness.
“It’s like family, our team is a family,” Nelson said. “We’ve been working hard together and now we have to keep grinding and stay hungry.”
The Chiefs once again outran their opponents Friday, making them 6-0 on the season when they do so. Kome Johnson and Chris Nelson had 69 yards rushing each and combined for all three of the Chiefs touchdowns.
After receiving the opening kick, the Chiefs wasted no time, marching 52 yards in two minutes. The drive was capped by a short touchdown run by Nelson, to give the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.
The Trojans responded with a lengthy drive of their own, in which quarterback Reece Piotter threw for 64 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Powell.
Tied at 7, the Chiefs, led by Johnson’s 36-yard catch, drove 60 yards for the go-ahead score. Their extra point attempt was short, so the lead was 13-7.
The Chiefs’ defense forced a three and out and the offense again drove well into Trojan territory. They reached the 10-yard line before a couple of holding calls backed them up to the 35, where it was second and goal. After a couple plays, the Trojans came up with a sack when the Chiefs went for it on fourth down.
The Trojans offense took over on their own 26 and fed off their defense’s stand. They evened up the game thanks to a 13-yard touchdown run by Ike Nnanabu. Chiefs receiver Kyle Krumm blocked the extra point to keep the game tied at 13, where it would stay going into halftime.
Okemos coach Jack Wallace wasn’t impressed by his defense’s first-half performance and knew they had to get better, and not let their emotions get the best of them.
“We went into halftime and made some adjustments,” Wallace said. “We tried to win it on execution and technique and not so much emotion.”
The second half was a completely different story. The teams, which combined for nearly 400 yard of offense in the first half, managed only 150 total yards in the second Both defenses came out of the half fired up, and neither team scored in the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth, the Trojans attempted a go-ahead 32-yard field goal. The try was blocked, and the Trojans also received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Chiefs good field position.
After little success moving the ball in previous drives, Wallace switched it up as co-captain Christian Moore took some snaps for the Chiefs out of the wildcat formation. “The wildcat got us going there,” Wallace said. “It got us the spark we needed.”
The drive, which lasted seven minutes, ended in a Johnson 4-yard touchdown run, and put the Chiefs up 20-13.
On the ensuing Trojan drive, the first play was picked off by Chaz Richardson on a diving grab. The Chiefs ran some clock and gave the ball back to the Trojans on a punt. East Lansing would have to drive 84 yards in 1:38 to have a shot at spoiling the Chiefs’ season.
Co-captain Sam Horton urged his team and the crowd to get loud, as he was well aware of the gravity of the situation. He came up with a huge sack on third down that gave the Trojans a fourth and 19. When they came up short, the Chiefs celebrated.
The Chiefs kneeled the ball and the bench, as well as hundreds of students from the stands, joined the players on the field in celebration. “What a win,” Wallace said. “Just a huge win.”
No Chiefs players has been involved in a varsity playoff game, but that didn’t stop co-captain Sam Horton from knowing exactly what needed to be done. “Win the day, that’s our motto,” Horton said. “Every day is a new day and we have to win that day.”