Some high school defensive backs total three interceptions in an entire season. McKinney North senior Grant Michalak did it one night.
In McKinney North’s biggest football game of the year, the Bulldogs defense, lead by Michalak’s three picks, held Rockwall to two third quarter touchdowns in a 22-14 victory Friday night at Ron Poe Stadium.
“First of all, glory to God,” Michalak said in his post-game interview. “Our defense [had a] great pass rush and [Rockwall] just threw it up for grabs and I was able to come down with it.”
“Every single person was a part of winning this game and it’s a great win for us.”
With the win, the Dawgs improved to 3-3 in District 10-4A and are now just one win away from ending a five-year playoff drought. Next Friday, North will host the Wylie Pirates, who defeated Richardson Pearce to move into a tie with the Bulldogs for the fourth and final playoff spot in the district.
Immediately after the game, North head coach Mike Fecci gathered his team on the field and reminded his players that they control their playoff destiny.
“I don’t know what happened with Wylie and Pearce tonight because I don’t care ’cause we’re not hoping for help,” Fecci said. “We’re just going to go next week and take care of our business.”
“We ain’t done yet. You’re going to go get yourself in this thing!”
Two weeks ago, senior and third-year varsity running back Devin Smith made his return to the lineup against rival McKinney High. Smith rose to the occasion in the eighth-annual Crosstown Showdown and rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns. After missing last week’s game at Highland Park, Smith suited up versus Rockwall and stepped up huge yet again with two touchdown runs in the first quarter of Friday night’s homecoming game.
“He’s just able to bring an extra burst in the backfield,” senior quarterback and McKinney North Homecoming King Hunter Walling said. “He’s an explosive guy.”
Smith’s second touchdown run came from 20 yards out with 4:23 left to go in the first quarter and put North ahead 15-0. On defense, the Dawgs were able to hold the Jackets scoreless for the entire first half and took a 22-0 lead into the locker room after a 41-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Walling to Evan Jones with two minutes left in the first half.
In the third quarter, North’s defense picked up where it left off and continued to disrupt the Yellowjacket’s offensive rhythm. It appeared as though the Dawgs would hold Rockwall scoreless for a third straight quarter but that all changed when a Walling pass intended for Daniel DiJoseph was bobbled and picked off by the Jackets’ defense in Bulldogs territory. With 4:02 left to play in the third, quarterback Wes Davis finally got the Jackets on the scoreboard with a three-yard touchdown run.
On North’s next offensive drive, things went from bad to worse.
Not only did Rockwall force the Dawgs to punt deep in their own territory but also a botched snap gave the Yellowjackets possession of the football inside the 10-yard line.
Exactly four minutes after their previous touchdown, the Jackets found the endzone once again on an 18-yard run by Zach Berryman to narrow North’s lead to 22-14. Fecci expected the Jackets to make a run eventually and wasn’t the least bit surprised when they got a spark on offense and started making defensive stops.
“They’ve got a lot of pride. They’re a good football team and we knew they would have answers for the things we were doing,” he said. “Our kids character showed through and we made plays when we had to make them.”
To start the fourth quarter, North’s offense marched down the field and was in scoring position with 9:36 in regulation. With the ball on the three-yard line, Walling rolled out to his right and attempted to connect with Randy Moncier on a touchdown pass but instead was intercepted by junior Patrick Ntchobo.
“That kid made a great play on the ball. He undercut it and it was a real nice play,” Walling said. “I was killing myself inside though knowing we were on the three-yard line.”
After the momentum-shifting turnover, Rockwall’s offense eventually crossed over into Bulldogs territory, and with North unable to stop their running game, it was just a matter of time before the Yellowjackets tied the score.
Just like on their previous touchdown drive, the Jackets called on Berryman once again to move the chains. Berryman took the snap and carried the ball up the middle for five yards before being tackled by senior Ed Garcia, who was able to knock the ball loose. Both sides pounced on the loose football immediately and when the pile was separated it was North’s Dominique Parish, who held the ball up, putting an end to another Rockwall drive.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs would eventually have to punt the ball away after a tough stand from the Jacket’s defense. Following the punt, Davis and company had another chance to tie the game and hope for overtime but the drive was ended after Michalak’s third interception of the game.
But the Jackets still weren’t done.
With 1:21 left on the clock, Rockwall once again had possession of the football, two timeouts, and one final opportunity to tie the game. On Davis’ first attempt at the endzone, a pass intended for Dylan Campman was nearly caught for the score but bounced off of Campman’s fingertips right before he was decked by North’s Evan Jones. Penalty flags were thrown for a possible late hit and it appeared as though Rockwall would be moving half the distance to the goal but instead the flags were picked up and the officials decided to wave the call. Rockwall still had one last look at the endzone but this time Davis’ pass was batted down by none other than Michalak to end the game and send the Bulldogs’ sideline into a frenzy.
“It’s awesome,” Walling said of Michalak’s career game versus Rockwall. “We’ve been buds since sixth grade. He sealed the game for us.”
Next Friday, McKinney North hosts Wylie in a game that will determine which team advanced to the UIL Texas high school football playoffs. Last year, the Bulldogs were denied a postseason berth at the hands of the Pirates. This time around, the Dawgs will undoubtedly be looking for redemption.
“Our kids have a confidence right now,” Fecci said. “We’ll come in tomorrow and get ready for Wylie.”
-Joe Arriola, TownSquareBuzz.com
–Check back soon for full game video higlights of McKinney North’s incredible homecoming night victory–