The Wayne State football team moved to 7-1 on the year beating GLIAC rival Saginaw Valley State University 42-14 at Tom Adams field on Oct. 22. The Warriors are off to their best start since the 2011 team that made it all the way to the national championship game.
The Warriors began the game in familiar fashion steamrolling their way through an 86-yard touchdown drive on the back of running back Romello Brown. Brown carried the ball nine times for 61 yards and a touchdown on the drive.
After a blocked point after attempt by WSU, the Warrior defense was able to stop the Cardinals on their first drive and hold on to a 6-0 lead. But after going three and out on the ensuing drive, the Warriors allowed a 12-yard touchdown hook up between Saginaw quarterback Ryan Conklin and Max Corcoran to give SVSU a 7-6 lead at the end of the first.
Despite Saginaw keeping the game close, WSU football Head Coach Paul Winters said he expected his team to respond accordingly.
“I saw a high level of determination and we were determined to not only win, but dominate this football game,” said Winters.
WSU was able to regain momentum in the beginning of the second thanks to more heroics from reigning GLIAC special teams player of the week Deiontae Nicholas. After being stopped on their first drive of the second, Nicholas was able to recover a muffed punt at the SVSU 12 yard line.
“It means a lot that my guys have a lot of confidence in me,” said Nicholas. “So every time I go out there, I feel like they’ve got my back and that allows me to make these kinds of plays. Whether I mess up or do something good, I know they’ve got me.”
The Warriors would capitalize on the turnover, scoring on a four-yard run from Demetrius Stinson to take a 13-7 lead.
The WSU defense followed up by forcing another turnover on an interception by senior safety Lairren Johnson. After a 27-yard return, the Warriors settled for a field goal and a 16-7 lead. The INT was Johnson’s first of the season and the third of his career.
Both teams traded scores before the end of the half and the Warriors were prepared to take a 22-16 lead into halftime.
But, the game took “an emotional turn” for the Warriors on the ensuing kickoff. With 16 seconds left in the half, redshirt freshman safety Kyle Toth suffered a bad leg injury making a tackle that resulted in a 15-minute delay and Toth being rushed to Henry Ford hospital.
“It’s hard to watch one of your teammates go out like that,” said Johnson. “It’s so easy to fog out mentally when you see one of your brothers down, but coach Winters told us that Kyle told him to tell us ‘don’t keep the game close’, so that’s what we did in the second half. We played for Kyle.”
Coach Winters said the team’s response was an emotional moment.
“It’s pretty emotional you know, you love these kids and you hate to see them have any kind of injury and it was great to see that kind of support from this team,” he said.
The Warriors would ride this momentum right into the third quarter. On Saginaw’s second drive of the quarter, senior linebacker Valorian Cunningham blocked his second kick of the season on a 45-yard attempt, recovering the fumble and returning it three yards to the Saginaw 45.
“The guys in front of me make my job a lot easier,” said Johnson, speaking on the play of the front seven, including Cunningham. “We ball for each other and work as one unit.”
The Warriors would capitalize by scoring on a seven-yard TD run by Romello Brown putting the Warriors up 28-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Warriors were able to force another turnover. The kickoff attempt was caught in the wind and only traveled ABOUT 30 YARDS and by rule was considered a live ball. It was recovered by redshirt freshman Stephen Charron and the Warriors wasted no time scoring another touchdown on a seven-yard touchdown hookup between QB Donovan Zezula and senior tight end Aaron Weston to put the Warriors up 35-14.
This would be the game’s only passing touchdown due to steep wind conditions.
“It was good we had the ground game going today,” said Winters. “We couldn’t throw against the win, couldn’t throw it with the wind, we just couldn’t throw it.”
The Warrior defense allowed only 166 total yards in the win forcing three turnovers. The Cardinals were only able to gain 30 yards on the ground against the Warrior defense.
Romello Brown finished with 159 yards on 29 carries and three touchdowns for his 10th straight game since last year with at least 145 yards rushing.
“It’s crazy, I have these little things that bother me and I just keep picking on them,” said Brown. “It motivates me to attack every time and be the best player I can be.”
The Warriors will face arguably one of their toughest tests of the season on the road next week against Ferris State. FSU won the GLIAC last year going 10-0 in league play; however, Winters said the team isn’t worried about measuring themselves against the Bulldogs.
“I’m sure it’s not a guy in that locker room who even knew who we played next week because we focus on the task at hand,” he said. “We just look at next week’s game as another opportunity for us. I know what I have, I have probably the best football team WSU has ever had.”