FOOTBALL: Romeo runs by Clarkston for regional crown

| November 12, 2016 | Comments (0)



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CLARKSTON — After winning the MHSAA Division 1 state title last season and graduating most of its starters from that squad, Romeo was tabbed as a rebuilding project with several question marks this season.

Someone forgot to tell that to the unranked Bulldogs.

Romeo advanced to its second straight Final Four Friday with a resounding 41-7 victory over host Clarkston in the Division 1 regional finals.     

“I think it just took a minute,” said Romeo junior running back Nathan Goralski. “It took some time for us to gel as a team. But we’ve had a great attitude and chemistry. When you have that, anything is possible.”

Romeo (9-3) advanced to the state semifinals for the third time in school history and will play the winner of the Grandville/Novi Detroit Catholic Central regional finals on Nov. 19 at a neutral site.

Clarkston, which had reached the regional finals four times in five years, bows out with a 9-3 record.

“They kicked out butt, to be honest,” sighed Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson, whose team lost at home for the first time since the 2012 regional finals to Rockford. “They were tougher, they were faster. They just beat us all over the field. They didn’t do anything special. They just beat us up good.”

Holding a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter, Romeo scored on three of its final four possessions to break the game open.

The Bulldogs stalled Clarkston out on fourth-and-four at the Romeo 18 with 11:06 left in the four quarter. On the next play, Goralski raced 82 yards for pay dirt for a 27-7 advantage with 10:51 remaining.

After forcing the Wolves to punt on their next series, Kade Massner raced 72 yards untouched on the first play from scrimmage for a 34-7 advantage with 9:28 still to go.

Romeo scored one final time with 1:21 remaining when Joel Smith broke free for a 57-yard touchdown stroll on his only carry of the game.

“This team has come a long ways,” admitted Romeo co-coach Curt Rienas. “Our kids played really hard. We have some undersized kids out there, but they fire out and play hard. You know when you play a team like Clarkston, you expect them to make some plays but we did a great job containing them. We’ve been fortunate the last three weeks that once the other team crosses the 35, we’ve been able to shut teams down.”

Romeo dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half, using its speed on defense to get to the outsides and thwart Clarkston’s running game. The Bulldogs’ forced Clarkston to turn the ball over on downs inside the Romeo 40 four different times in the game.

Romeo scored on its opening drive, going 76 yards on eight plays and capped by Goralski’s 4-yard run up the middle to set the tone.

Romeo scored again on its third drive, this time with Malik Jones plunging into the end zone from the 2 on a fourth-and-goal play with 10:56 left in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs forced a turnover late in the first half when Bailey Kamego picked off a JT King pass at the Clarkston 30 and returned it to the 23. Four plays later, Ryan Medley scored on a 1-yard plunge 22.7 seconds left before halftime.

Clarkston finally got on the board on it first drive of the third quarter. King found Ryan Prisby down the middle for a 13-yard touchdown strike with 8:39 to go in the frame.

The Wolves would not score again.

Romeo out-gained Clarkston by a 472-289 count.

“We are playing much better than we were at the beginning of the season. I think it just took time,” said Rienas.

Jackson Butcher finished 8-for-11 passing for 140 yards. Goralski had 130 yards on eight carries and Messner had six carries for 77 yards for Romeo, which chalked up 332 rushing yards. Messner also had three catches for 65 yards.

King finished 12-for-27 passing for 137 yards for Clarkston. Michael Fluegel was held to 91 yards on 17 rushes and Prisby caught six passes for 59 yards for the Wolves.

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