Plymouth's football team went from awestruck to awesome Saturday afternoon at Ford Field.
The only problem was it took the Wildcats a little bit too long to complete the transition.
After falling into a 21-3 first-half pit against Lake Orion, Plymouth's superior second-half effort came up short, 21-13, in the MHSAA Division 1 title game at Ford Field.
"I thought we came out a little awestruck in the first half," said Sawchuk. "We made some adjustments at halftime and made a game of it in the second half. These kids are very resilient.
"In the locker room after the game -- after I told the kids I loved them -- I told them that they created some very high expectations for this program, and that the only way they were going to meet the expectations from here on out is with hard work.
"We weren't real big on either side of the ball, but these kids played with such heart."
Saturday's game marked the end of an extraordinary journey for the Wildcats, who overcame a 36-0 Week 7 loss to Canton to reel off six straight wins -- three against current or former No. 1-ranked teams -- to earn a trip to the biggest stage in Michigan high school football.
"For not having won a playoff game before this season to getting all the way here, it's been a great accomplishment for this team," said senior Brennen Beyer. "I love all my teammates. We all came together and played for each other."
Playing in front of a loud and massive black sea of fired-up fans, the Wildcats got off to an uncharacteristic slow start, going three-and-out on their first drive.
The Dragons set the tone early, driving 46 yards in five plays to seize a 7-0 lead on quarterback Cole Schaezner's 23-yard boot-leg run with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
"That play wasn't working too well last week against Cass Tech," said a smiling Schaenzer during the post-game press conference. "But we worked on it all week and it was wide open."
"We noticed that Plymouth flows to the ball really well and they're aggressive, so we thought something might be there on the bootleg," said Lake Orion head coach Chris Bell.
After the two teams exchanged punts, Plymouth mounted its first scoring drive with 2:45 left in the opening quarter.
Sparked by a 24-yard connection between Shaun Austin and Beyer, the Wildcats drove to the Dragon 25 before settling for Kyle Brindza's 43-yard field goal, which cut Plymouth's deficit to 7-3 with 11:12 left in the first half.
The next five minutes would prove to be Plymouth's undoing as the Dragons sandwiched a pair of five-play touchdown drives around a Wildcat three-and-out.
Senior 5-foot-8 running back Marques Stevenson capped the first of the two drives with a 3-yard up-the-middle spurt to make it 14-3. The key play on the drive was Demetri Hudson's 39-yard cutback sprint on the play prior to the TD.
Stevenson exploded for 36 yards to paydirt on a trap play on the Dragons' next drive to extend his team's lead to 21-3.
"One thing our defense prides itself on is not getting trapped," said Sawchuk. "But we weren't playing fundamentally sound defense in the first half and we weren't squeezing down on the trap play."
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Brennen Beyer hauls down Danny Ney on this first-quarter run. (Ed Wright photo)
Lake Orion's Marques Stevenson was stopped in his tracks by Faris Abraham. (Ed Wright photo)
Thomas Efetian led Plymouth with six receptions. (Ed Wright photo)
Brandon Landers brings down Danny Ney. (Ed Wright photo)
The Wildcats react to Donte Fox's third-quarter fumble recovery. (Ed Wright photo)
Pressure from Donte Fox forced Cole Schaezner to make an errant pass. (Ed Wright photo)
The Wildcats' defense harrassed Cole Schaenzer the entire second half. (Ed Wright photo)
Plymouth head coach Mike Sawchuk (center) watches a key fourth-quarter play unfold. (Ed Wright photo)
The Wildcats were bolstered by a large and vocal student cheering section. (Ed Wright photo)
Vic Hicks (right) is congratulated by teammates following his 46-yard punt-return TD. (Ed Wright photo)