By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
When the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) playoff football matchups were unveiled on October 25, the Oxford Wildcats drew a familiar foe and a team many view as one of the state’s ten best, the Clarkston Wolves.
Heavy underdogs entering the clash, which was played at Clarkston High School last Friday, the night before Halloween, the Wildcats came out as the more spirited team, surprising the Wolves with their energy and effectiveness, but ultimately fell, 21-7.
Oxford rounded out their 2020 campaign at 2-5, while Clarkston improved to 7-0 and will battle the Grand Blanc Bobcats, who defeated the Lake Orion Dragons, 28-14, in the second-round on Friday, November 6 at home.
After forcing a Wolves three-and-out on their first possession of the game, the Wildcats took over at their own 29-yard line and drove 71 yards, culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Tate Myre, to take a 7-0 lead with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
The score was Myre’s seventh of the season and his fifth on the ground. Faced with a fourth-down-and-13 at the Clarkston 31-yard line, junior quarterback Brady Carpenter found senior wide receiver Brendan Moore for 14 yards, just enough to move the sticks.
Head coach Zach Line then dug deep into his playbook, calling a reverse pass, where Moore connected with Carpenter, to bring the football to the one-yard line.
The Wolves tied the game at seven when junior running back Davis York, the son of FOX Sports Detroit’s Mickey York, ran one in from 15 yards out with 9:42 remaining in the second quarter.
Oxford looked as if they would retake the lead when they drove 77 yards to the Clarkston two-yard line late in the second quarter. However, two penalties, one for a false start and the other for delay of game, and a negative run, brought the football back to the 13-yard line.
On third-down-and-goal from the 13, Carpenter tried to hook up with senior tight end Trent Brown in the end zone, but he was unable to corral it. Freshman kicker Jay Cady then hooked his 30-yard field goal attempt wide left and the score remained knotted at seven.
With just 15.6 seconds left in the first half, the Wolves took their first lead of the night when junior quarterback Mike DePillo, one of the state’s best signal-callers in the Class of 2022, found senior wide receiver Logan Forbes from 10 yards out.
DePillo, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds, added the game’s only points in the second half, a one-yard run with 5:27 left to play.
The offensive statistics for both teams were nearly identical, Clarkston tallied 297 yards on 48 snaps, an average of 6.2 yards per play, while the Wildcats registered 294 yards on 46 snaps, an average of 6.4.
Carpenter had arguably his best performance of the season, completing 14-of-17 passes for 137 yards. He did leave the game late in the fourth quarter, but Line shared he just had the wind knocked out of him and will be OK.
Myre ran for 97 yards on 17 carries and added seven receptions for 61 yards. The sophomore finished the season as Oxford’s leader in yards from scrimmage with 753 (482 rushing, 271 receiving).
Defensively, senior cornerback John Valvo, who has recently received offers to continue his student-athlete career at Albion and Finlandia, led the way with five-and-a-half tackles, including half-a-tackle for loss.
Nathan Groedl, a fellow senior, recorded three tackles and recovered a York fumble in the third quarter.
“That’s a good football team,” Wolves head coach Kurt Richardson, a 34-year veteran, said of the Wildcats.
“They’re well-coached, they’re tough, Oxford’s always tough. Going back to the old Bud Rowley teams, they’re tougher than hell. It was a good challenge, we got to play better.”
Line was proud of his team’s effort, especially the example his seniors set for the team’s returning players in 2021.
“I think our week of practice and preparation was the best it’s been,” he shared.
“It’s one of those games where, you lose, and it hurts. You feel for your seniors, it’s the first group you’ve had. I think they did a great job of setting the standard for the offseason now and going into next year.
“We went into that game, we had nothing to lose and there’s nothing to wait for. So, I just wanted to make sure those seniors had no regrets when they finished their career.”
With the season wrapped up, Line took a moment to share what is next for the group.
“It’s the sad phase of closing up shop a little bit here,” he said. “We’re collecting equipment, voting on the Most Valuable Player (MVP), voting on all the other things we vote on, near the end of November we’ll have a banquet.
“It’s not the time of year you look forward to, but I thought this team played with a lot of heart and was a great representation of all the work they’ve put in, they finally put it on display and it was awesome to see.”
The graduating seniors will be tough to replace, but the Wildcats are set to return a lot of experienced talent in 2021, as well, meaning there are reasons for optimism.
While this season was one of firsts, made even more unusual by the changes created by the coronavirus (COVID-19), Friday nights in Oxford are still unmatched by any other community and the program is in great hands moving forward.
By Teddy Rydquist