Defending Division 6 football state champion Jackson Lumen Christi will return to the semifinal thanks to a 44-22 road win over the Watervliet Panthers in Saturday’s Regional final. The Titans were dominant from the start, scoring the game’s first 36 points and earning the running clock by the third quarter. They held the Panthers, who averaged more than 50 points per game in the season, to only six against their starting defense.
Watervliet got two first downs on their initial drive, but were stopped for a turnover on downs 33 yards from the end zone. Lumen Christi had a three-and-out for their opening drive, but would score on the ensuing six drives. The second Panther drive ended after one play as safety Kamal Harris recovered a fumble from quarterback Zack Pickens at the Panther 29. Three plays later, running back Sebastian Toland scored on a five-yard rush, giving the Titans a 6-0 lead after a missed extra point with 6:32 in the first quarter.
The Titans would get the ball twice more before Watervliet, recovering two onside kicks that bounced off of waiting Panthers. Lumen Christi quarterback Troy Kutcha added 10 and one yard touchdown runs, along with a Nick Thomas two-point run and two-point pass to Dayton Keller, to give Lumen Christi a 22-0 lead after one quarter.
Watervliet finally got the ball back, but moved backward, leading to a rare Panther punt. The Titans put together a 55-yard scoring drive and scored on a 13-yard Thomas run, putting the score at 28-0 following a failed two-point try with 8:01 in the second.
Watervliet’s fourth drive ended in a turnover on downs and the Titans responded with a nine-play, 53-yard scoring drive capped off with a 22-yard pass from Kutcha to Kyle Minder. The two-point run by Thomas gave Lumen Christi a 36-0 lead with 1:20 before halftime.
Facing the prospect of the running clock to start the third quarter, Watervliet finally found the end zone on the final play of the second with a nine-yard pass from Pickens to Bryant Kieft. The two-point try failed, putting the score at 36-6 into halftime. Unfortunately for Watervliet, Lumen Christi started with the ball in the third quarter and passed the running clock threshold with a 51-yard scoring drive. The QB sneak by Kutcha and two-point run by Thomas put the score to 44-6.
The following two Panther drives ended with a turnover on downs, with a lot of time ticking in between. The Titans brought in reserves in the fourth quarter and saw a punt get blocked, putting Watervliet seven yards from the end zone.
The Panthers scored on their first pass, a seven-yard fade toss to Kieft, finally stopping the running clock. They got the two on the exact same play to put the score at 44-14, but the running clock damage was already done with the touchdown coming with 4:55 left in the game. Watervliet forced another punt and scored once more against the backups with a one-yard Dylan Lynch run and two-point pass for Garrett Matthews.
Unofficially, Kutcha was 7-8 passing for 114 yards and one touchdown, along with three rushing scores on 20 yards. Minder was the leading Titan rusher with 74 on 18 carries, followed by 57 on 9 from Toland. For Watervliet, Pickens was 15-25 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 75 yards, although more than half of that came in the fourth quarter. Kieft led the Panther receivers with six catches, 81 yards, and two scores.
Watervliet finishes at 11-1 on the season, only their second season ever getting to 11 wins. Lumen Christi improves to 10-1 and will face Warren Michigan Collegiate (12-0) next Saturday at 1 p.m. from Chelsea High School.
Listen back to the Regional final below: