The score: Orchard Lake St. Mary's 49, Linden 7
The star: St. Mary's senior running back Spencer McInnis led the Eaglets with 163 yards rushing on 13 carries and three touchdowns, including touchdown runs of 47 and 74 yards.
The turning point: On the first play of the second half, McInnis took a handoff from quarterback Dan Clements at his own 26-yard-line and faced a wall of Linden linemen on the right side. With one Linden Eagle grabbing at his jersey, McInnis moved deeper into the backfield toward the left sideline, found some daylight, and ran all the way for a score to put St. Mary's up 28-7.
The quote: "It’s just a special play — a running back doing his thing. It’s not what you want — usually, you get a penalty out of it, but (Spencer McInnis) is that kind of back. He can make something out of nothing. That’s what he did. That play turned the game around. They were hitting us. I tell you, I was very impressed with that squad, Linden." — St. Mary's head coach George Porritt on McInnis' run.
What’s next? St. Mary's will travel to a neutral site, rumored to be Jackson, in order to play Battle Creek Harper Creek next week in the state semifinals.
Bottom line: Linden had a season for the ages. After two very strong wins in the playoffs, the Eagles reached the regional championship round for the first time in the team's history and hung in the game against the best team in Michigan for one half. But the St. Mary's offense was just too efficient, too capable of the big play, too good to lose Saturday at home. Their true test will be on the road against Harper Creek.
There is usually one play that in an instant sums up a team's season. At home on Saturday afternoon against Linden, senior running back Spencer McInnis made that play — a 74-yard touchdown run on the first play in the second half which ensured the victory for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
The 49-7 win in the Michigan High School Athletic Association regional championship ended Linden’s historic run, which saw the Eagles finish 7-5 (5-3 Flint Metro) and go further in the playoffs than ever before.
Meanwhile, the Eaglets move on to challenge Battle Creek Harper Creek in the next round, in large part thanks to McInnis, who finished with 163 yards rushing from only 13 carries and three touchdowns.
Eaglets head coach George Porritt was quick to give credit to both McInnis and to Linden, whom, he said, looked strong in the first half before McInnis literally ran away with the result.
"It’s just a special play — a running back doing his thing,” Porritt said of the run on first-and-15 from the Eaglets’ 26-yard-line.
McInnis took a handoff from quarterback Dan Clements and faced a wall of Linden linemen on the right side. With one Eagle grabbing at his jersey, McInnis moved deeper into the backfield towards the left sideline, found some daylight, and ran all the way.
Porritt continued: “It’s not what you want — usually, you get a penalty out of it, but (Spencer McInnis) is that kind of back. He can make something out of nothing. That’s what he did. That play turned the game around. They were hitting us. I tell you, I was very impressed with that squad, Linden."
Indeed, Linden looked resilient in the first half. Down 14-0 in the first quarter with the ball at their own 8-yard-line and star junior quarterback Shay Brown struggling to complete passes, wide receiver Kevin Baker ran a fake punt from the end zone to the Eagles’ 42-yard-line.
“We picked it up off their film and just guessed right,” Linden head coach Denny Hopkins said. “You’ve got to take your chances.”
Brown followed it up with a strike up the middle from the St. Mary’s 33-yard-line to junior wide receiver Taylor Anderson, who bounced off of Eaglets’ tacklers and in for the score to bring the game to 14-7 and quiet the home crowd.
“Look at their defensive line versus our offensive line, they had us about 65 pounds per man. We weren’t going to move them any where, so we knew we had to throw quick, throw short, and get those big kids running left and right. We did that for a little bit, but it’s just not enough,” Hopkins said.
Indeed, St. Mary’s responded. On the ensuing drive, the Eaglets marched 80 yards over the course of 9 minutes, 30 seconds of the second quarter. Junior fullback Grant Niemiec finally pounded it in from the 2-yard-line with 2:44 left in the half to put the Eaglets up, 21-7.
After McInnis’ run in the second half, the St. Mary’s defense took over. Eaglets Jalen Watts-Jackson and Charlie Ciuni each recorded interceptions against Brown to seal the win.
Linden 7, Orchard Lake St. Mary's 49
LHS – 7 0 0 0 - 7
OLSM – 14 7 21 7 - 49
OLSM: S. McInnis 47 run (Parry kick)
OLSM: S. McInnis 6 run (Parry kick)
LHS: Anderson 33 pass from Brown (Cook kick)
OLSM: Niemiec 2 run (Parry kick)
OLSM: S. McInnis 74 run (Parry kick)
OLSM: Niemiec 12 run (Parry kick)
OLSM: Ross 11 pass from Clements (Parry kick)
OLSM: Croone 3 run (Parry kick)
LHS: Marsh 1-0, Bolen 1-minus-1, Baker 2-35, Zorn 1-5. Totals: 5-39. OLSM: Renfroe 1-1, Clements 5-minus-1, Robinson 4-7, Croone 4-9, P. McInnis 12-72, S. McInnis 13-163, Niemiec 19-115. Totals: 58-366.
LHS: Brown 13-33-158-2, Zorn 3-3-26-0. Totals: 16-36-184-2. OLSM: Clements 8-9-66-0, Linehan 1-1-10-0. Totals: 9-10-76-0.
LHS: Marsh 3-37, Hull 2-14, Kraus 2-12, Anderson 1-33, Juhl 5-72, Baker 1-3, Bolen 1-7, Buerkel 1-6. Totals: 16-184. OLSM: Echols 2-21, Ross 1-11, Niemiec 1-15, Watts-Jackson 2-17, S. McInnis 3-24, Woolen 1-8. Totals: 9-76.
FHS: 7-5 (5-4 Flint-Metro). OLSM: 10-2 (4-0 Catholic Central).
Correction: The original version of this story mentioned that Grant Niemiec scored three touchdowns and Spencer McInnis had two, when that should have been reversed.