The Lawton Blue Devils’ storybook run continues this week, as they pursue their first trip to Ford Field. Last Friday, they defeated Muskegon Catholic Central 41-22 to secure the school’s first Regional Championship. That win gave them the opportunity to play in Saturday’s semifinal at Battle Creek Harper Creek High School. Standing on the other sideline will be another state power, the Jackson Lumen Christi Titans.
Since their program began in 1968, Lumen Christi has posted a 468-116 record. A model of consistency, Lumen has reached the playoffs in every season since 1998, the second-longest streak in MHSAA history. The Titans have been to the State Championship thirteen times, with eleven titles. The most recent trip occurred in 2018, which was the endcap of a three-peat in Division 6. “They have a Hall of Fame football coach, and their staff is a big reason they have been able to duplicate this success every year,” Lawton Head Coach Wade Waldrup shared.
This year, Lumen Christi is 11-1 and co-champions of the Interstate 8. Their lone loss came at Harper Creek, when they lost to the host Beavers 33-14. Lawton is hoping to capture some of the magic on this field once more on Saturday.
In order to pull off a victory that the casual fan would consider an upset, Lawton will need to succeed at what they do best. “We need to execute and establish the run game offensively,” Waldrup explained. “Whether it comes from the spread or the T, we need to be able to run the ball.”
The Blue Devils rushing attack has tallied 4,400 yards in 12 games, a remarkable average of over 360 yards per contest. Over half of that yardage, 2,253 yards, come on the legs of star tailback Jake Rueff. The nation’s leader in rushing touchdowns with 46, Rueff has stepped up to the challenge all season long. “The big games haven’t phased him”, Waldrup exclaimed. “Last year, teams game planned to take things away from Jake. This year, he has expanded his ability and skill set as a runner. Jake runs with such patience, and he has been able to go to Plan B or Plan C to make things happen”.
Waldrup praised Offensive Coordinator AJ High as a large reason behind the success of this offense that averages 52 points per game. “AJ does a great job of getting Jake the football, and getting our players in a position to make plays,” Waldrup complemented. “This offense has set area records, and that’s a tribute to AJ and his preparation. He watches tons of film, and draws up great schemes to make this offense go”.
This week will be another tough challenge for High’s offense, as they face a Lumen Christi defense that has allowed 13.5 points per game, and just 12 points per contest in the postseason. Featuring defensive players such as Ralph Golden, Colin Morrow, Cole Simpson and Caden Martines, the Titans will try and slow down this potent Blue Devil rushing attack. “They have a strong defense, especially at linebacker,” Waldrup shared. “They run downhill, pursuing the football in a way that reminds me a bit of Muskegon Catholic Central. They have a bit more size than Muskegon Catholic. They are a big and strong team.”
The size of the Titans exists on offense as well, with Ximenes Willis and Sam Putnam anchoring the offensive line. “They are a big team up front.” Waldrup remarked. “They might even have a size advantage on us, which is something we haven’t seen this season.” This is going to create a fun battle in the trenches on both sides of the football, with Lawton bringing Carter Mayne, Drew Stephayn, Evan Stephayn, Jace Riggs and Nolan Collins into the fight up front.
The speed to which they run their offense also caught Waldrup‘s attention. “They sprint out of the huddle so that you can’t get aligned before the snap. We will need to be prepared to make alignment changes on the fly, and play sound defensively.”
The third phase of the game will also be a point of emphasis for Lawton, as Waldrup believes that his team has the opportunity to create a field position advantage. “We need to continue to excel on special teams. Last week, we had touchbacks on kickoffs, strong returns, and we played offensively with short fields while pinning them deep. Our kicker, punter and returners know how to get the ball down the field, and we need that from all of them this Saturday.”
Lawton has had many memorable moments in this season. They outlasted Montrose in a shootout, snapped a losing streak to Schoolcraft and took down Union City and Muskegon Catholic Central to capture the school’s first District and Regional titles. A victory over the third-winningest coach in MHSAA history and his storied program would be another thrilling chapter in the Blue Devils’ journey while punching a ticket to the ultimate high school football destination. The quest’s latest chapter will be written at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon in Cereal City.