Photos by Bethany McCullough
MUSKEGON – Some local fans at Hackley Stadium Friday night did not seem to know in what part of the state Lawton is located.
If the small town in southwestern Michigan known for its vineyards wasn’t already on the map as a rising high school football program and state-title contender, then the Blue Devils’ 41-22 domination of perennial power Muskegon Catholic Central in a Division 7 regional final should put them there.
Lawton was the bigger, faster, stronger team throughout the CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week, and nobody was better than senior Jake Rueff. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound running back rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns to push his season totals to 2,255 yards and a whopping 47 TDs. He also caught a scoring pass.
One week after the Blue Devils captured their program’s first-ever district title, they collected another trophy and continued to turn heads. Lawton (12-0) is one victory from Ford Field now and will face the winner of Saturday’s regional final between Jackson Lumen Christi (10-1) and Detroit Loyola (6-4) in next week’s state semifinals.
MCC, a traditional power which has 13 state championships on its resume and was seeking its first regional title since 2016, finishes the season with a 10-2 record. In the only other meeting with Lawton, MCC won 48-0 in the first round of the 2006 playoffs.
“Our coach was saying, we were getting overlooked a lot. I mean, we kind of like being the underdog – it’s fun,” said Rueff, a speedy and strong back, who scored three TDs in the game’s first 12 minutes, 10 seconds to give the Blue Devils an early 20-6 lead.
“Honestly, we don’t really care what anyone else thinks,” Rueff said. “I mean, we know how good we are. It doesn’t really matter what the statement is.”
Rueff opened the scoring on a 33-yard TD reception from senior Landon Motter barely three minutes into the game. Rueff broke loose for a 66-yard TD run midway through the first, then he sprung free on a 54-yard score 10 seconds into the second quarter after MCC had cut its deficit to 14-6 on senior Elliot Riegler’s 19-yard pass to senior Dane Rutz.
The Crusaders had a chance to pull within a TD late in the first half, but Riegler’s 26-yard scoring run was taken off the board on a penalty.
Lawton’s lead grew to as large as 34-6 late in the third quarter and 41-14 with about 4 ½ minutes left in the game. The Blue Devils outgained the Crusaders on the ground, 384-120.
“Yeah, they have a real nice team. Big up front, had really capable backs and they’re an excellent team,” MCC coach Steve Czerwon said about the Blue Devils.
Motter added 78 rushing yards and TD runs of 5 and 6 yards for Lawton. He also had two TD passes, one from 19 yards to senior tight end Chase Mitchell that capped the Blue Devils’ scoring. Mitchell, Rueff, Carter Cosby and Connor Mathies recorded five tackles apiece.
Riegler was 14-of-23 passing for 228 yards with three TDs and no interceptions for MCC. Rutz led all receivers with eight catches for 161 yards and two TDs. Junior Sam Kartes led the Crusaders defensively with 12 tackles, while senior Shane Powell notched seven stops.
“You know, we have a pretty good football team. Right now, I don’t even know what to think,” said Lawton coach Wade Waldrup, who is now 28-3 in three seasons at the helm, with all three defeats coming to excellent Schoolcraft teams. “These kids, they’ve known that they were going to get here since they were little. They’ve talked about it for a very long time.”
Lawton played like it had something to prove. The Blue Devils’ physicality was noticeable from the beginning, and the big boys up front set the tone.
Senior Carter Mayne, a 6-2, 272-pound starting center, anchored Lawton’s offensive line that features seniors in the other two interior O-line positions.
“I would say it’s a huge statement. Our whole thing is, we’re trying to build that whole statement, ‘You’re a traditional powerhouse,’ that’s what we’ve been trying to build this whole time,” Mayne said. “That’s what our coach always tells us and we’re the start of it and hopefully it can go on for generations to come.”
Senior Sam Convertini was one of several MCC players overcome with emotion following the game. He gave his freshman brother, Bryan, a tearful embrace before a couple Lawton players came over to console the siblings.
“Their first-time regional championship; I mean, they went out there, they deserved it,” Sam Convertini said with watery eyes. “We gave them our all … It just surprised me a lot.”
Convertini wore his No. 22 MCC jersey with pride. Now it’s time to pass it down to his younger brother, who made several plays this season despite his relative youth.
“This number right here,” Convertini said, “it came from way in the past — my grandpa, my dad, all three of my other brothers. It’s just time for me to pass it on to No. 9, my little brother, Bryan.”
Czerwon offered perspective to his seniors and their teammates after the game.
He said that the seniors had a great work ethic and set a strong example for the younger Crusaders to follow.
“I told them at the end, ‘Just because you didn’t win a state title (doesn’t mean everything) — some schools are going to lose; a lot of schools are going to lose their last game,’” said Czerwon, who led MCC to state titles in each of his first four seasons.
“I thought they did an excellent job of really setting a great standard that we want kids to be at and sometimes it’s not your year.”
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