Dow High began playing football in 1968, and in all of the years since, the Chargers had never won back-to-back league championships. Not until now, that is.
Quarterback Bruce Mann threw for 263 yards and five touchdowns, all in the first half, and Dow’s defense kept visiting Saginaw High from getting anything going in a dominant 48-6 victory on Friday — giving the Chargers the outright Saginaw Valley League Blue title for the second consecutive year.
“I think it’s awesome that we finally made school history, winning back-to-back (championships) for the first time,” enthused Dow senior defensive back Jared Mohammed. “ … I don’t know what to say. It’s awesome.”
Chargers’ coach Jason Watkins agreed.
“It is absolutely (a nice achievement),” Watkins said with a big smile. “I’m real happy for this group (of players).”
Watkins added that with next Friday’s annual showdown with crosstown rival Midland High looming, playing for an outright championship kept his team on-task.
“It’s a trap game, right?” he said of playing Saginaw immediately prior to Dow-Midland week. “ … But tonight (our players) were focused, because they wanted to have the outright conference championship, and they didn’t want to share it. And that gave us an added level of focus tonight. I was very pleased with how we paid attention (with some of the distractions).”
Mann certainly didn’t look distracted, completing 13 of 17 passes, all in the first half, and picking apart the Trojans’ secondary with precision, as the Chargers (7-1 overall, 6-0 SVL Blue) won for the seventh straight time following an opening-week loss to Mount Pleasant.
“His touch is really coming around. He’s making better and better decisions every week, and he’s working hard watching the film,” Watkins said of Mann. “And he’s got a receiving corps that’s running good routes and catching the ball, and the offensive line is blocking better, so it really is all of those pieces coming together.”
According to Mohammed, that week-one loss to the Oilers was just what Dow needed to rekindle the fires.
“I think that was a (wake-up) moment where we just figured out that we needed to buckle down and focus up,” he admitted. “I feel like before (the season began) we had won a lot (in 7-on-7’s), and we came into the season a bit too cocky, to be honest. … I feel like that (Mount Pleasant game) was where we realized we had to focus up, get serious, and not screw around in practice.”
The Chargers were plenty focused Friday, especially in the first half. Dow took the opening kick and marched into the red zone on only two plays before Mann fumbled the ball out of the Saginaw end zone, giving the ball to the Trojans. The Chargers got the ball back seconds later, however, on Justin Cook’s interception, then scored on Mann’s 20-yard TD strike to Devontae Stine. The 2-point try failed, making it 6-0.
Following another interception by the Chargers’ defense, this time by Josh Riepma, on the ensuing possession, Dow took over at the Trojans’ 38-yard-line and scored three plays later on Mann’s 14-yard strike to Mike Robb. Johnny Wilson kicked the first of six extra points to make it 13-0 midway through the first quarter.
Dow added a 60-yard TD run by Wilson early in the second quarter and a 15-yard TD pass from Mann to Robb later in the period to extend to a 27-0 advantage before Saginaw answered with its only points of the game.
The Trojans went 59 yards on seven plays on the ensuing possession and scored on a 10-yard TD pass from Kendrick Gaines to Corey Pritchett to cut it to 27-6 with just under two minutes left in the half.
It took the Chargers only three plays and 29 seconds to answer, as they scored on a 39-yard TD pass from Mann to Cook to make it 34-6 with 1:15 to go. After a three-and-out by the Trojans, Dow struck quickly again, this time going 60 yards on only three plays in 31 seconds and capping the drive with Mann’s 30-yard TD pass to Cook with 11 seconds remaining, sending the Chargers into the break with a 41-6 lead.
The second half breezed by quickly, with the running clock in play and Dow substituting liberally. The Chargers ran only five plays after halftime, one of them being Wilson’s 3-yard TD run early in the third quarter following a Saginaw fumble.
“That was a good performance tonight,” Watkins said. “I felt that the defense was solid right from the jump, and I thought the offense executed early on, and that was great. And then we had a bunch of guys who got to play in the second half who maybe don’t always get that many reps, and they came out and did some good things, too.
“(I saw) a lot of good things going forward,” he added. “We’d like to keep this thing rolling for a while.”
Dow finished with a 441-142 advantage in total offense.
Wilson ran nine times for 150 yards and two TDs and also caught two passes for 40 yards. Cook had four catches for 109 yards and two TDs, while Robb added four receptions for 59 yards and two scores.
For Saginaw (2-6, 2-4), Marquise Goodman had 58 yards on 14 carries, while Gaines was 3 of 11 passing for 30 yards and a TD with two INTs.
Spencer Stephenson led Dow’s defense with six tackles and a fumble recovery, while Mohammed had five tackles, and Brad Drenckpohl, Spencer Hulbert, and Aaron Reardon each added four tackles.
Mohammed, who moved to Midland from New Jersey three years ago, said he is really looking forward to next Friday’s game against the Chemics, even though he is relatively new to the rivalry.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I think it’ll be a good game — a tough, exciting game.”
Watkins noted that, on paper, the Chargers and Chemics seem to be pretty evenly-matched. But at the same time, he admitted that anything can happen in the Dow-Midland matchup.
“I think the potential is there for a really good game. … They (Midland) have had a great season. … They’re doing a lot of good things over there, and they’re always well-coached, and it should be a good one,” he said.
“ … It feels like it is (an evenly-matched game), but with us being in different (divisions), we don’t play a lot of the same opponents,” he added. “ … You really just don’t know. I think we’re playing well and executing, and they are, too, so you really don’t know what the outcome will be. … But I think it has potential (to be a great game), for sure.”