**ARTICLE BY JOSH LONGSTRETH**
Gladwin is in the midst of a special season, their best in school history. The Flying G’s are coming in from an impressive victory over Muskegon Oakridge last week. Tested in the first half, there was no denying them in the second. Gladwin would come into the state semifinals playing better than ever and with a chip on their shoulder. They would be in for their tallest order to date in Grand Rapids Catholic Central. The Cougars coming in with an 11-1 record on the season, have won three state championships in a row and have won five state championships since 2016. They are a power in Michigan High School football. This one would be dominated by one, with the other hanging on for dear life.
With snow on the ground, and more to come on a brisk 25 degree day (sure felt like it), it would be a packed house in Ithaca. With fans barely settling in, Gladwin would decide to get the party started very early in this one. On the opening kickoff the Flying G’s would send a rumble throughout the state of Michigan. Shifty back Earl Esiline would take the return back with a sense of urgency on an 93-yard TD that would give Gladwin an early 6-0 lead and put their crowd into an absolute frenzy. The Gladwin defense would come out fiery as well really making things hard for the Cougars to get off to a quick start. The offense would then get rolling. Logan Kokotovich would ignite the crowd again on a 7-yard TD run. The 2-point try would be good from Esiline and Gladwin had themselves a 14-0 lead midway through the opening quarter. But the mighty don’t go down easy. Late in the quarter Catholic Central would strike for the first time on the day on a 21-yard TD pass from Connor Wolf to Michael App. Cougars cut the deficit to 14-7 after one.
The Cougars had all the momentum now, right? But, they didn’t. Gladwin would keep their composure and with 6:44 in the half, they would strike again. Kokotovich, who ran like a man possessed on the day, would punch would in from 1-yard out. Esiline would add another successful 2-point try and Gladwin a little breathing with at 22-7. Things would really heat up late in the half. Gladwin would have a chance to take absolute control of this one after a Cougars fumble would put the Gladwin offense in solid field possession. The Cougars defense would stiffen up to force a 4th and 6 with 2:10 in the quarter. Gladwin would seem content to play the field possession game and head into the half, but they didn’t. They would pick up a huge first down on a fake punt that would put their offense right back on the field. Then with 1:11 left in the half, the unthinkable happened. The Cougars would grab a scoop and score on a 26-yard fumble return by Isaac Redmer. It appeared that Catholic Central was going to have all the momentum heading into the half after cutting the lead to 22-14. But, they didn’t. Gladwin would respond right back. Sophomore Donald Corlew would find some room on the kick return and go all the way from 91-yards away. It would be Gladwin with the momentum marching into the locker room with a 28-14 lead at the half.
Catholic Central would come out with a sense of urgency to start the 2nd half. They would put the ball into the hands of dynamic athlete Kellen Russell-Dixon out of a wildcat package. The Cougars would drive right down the field on the drive looking like they might grab the momentum. But, again, they didn’t. Setting up on the 4-yard line Catholic Central would fumble it giving the ball back to Gladwin. Both defenses would step up big for the rest of the quarter. Gladwin would the hold the 28-14 headed into the 4th.
Midway through the 4th, the Cougars would break through. Wolf would hit Sophomore Jami Williams who made a heck of a football play from resulting in a 13-yard TD pass. This would make it a 28-21 game with plenty of time left. Gladwin would cross midfield with just nearly 3:30 to play in the game looking to seal the game. The Cougars would instead get another opportunity on a Gladwin botched handoff recovered by Catholic Centrals Jack Cook. They would have a chance to tie it up. But, it didn’t happen. Nick Wheeler, one of the Senior leaders for Gladwin, would instead come up with an INT returning it 51-yards before sliding to the turf. Gladwin would set up in victory formation and secure their trip to Ford Field beating the mighty Catholic Central, 28-21.
Kellen Russell Dixon finished the game with 125 yards on the day. Connor Wolf would throw for 130 yards and a TD. Logan Kokotovich carried for 91 yards but it sure felt like more. Nick Wheeler carried for 54 yards. Earl Esiline and Donald Corlew would each take a kickoff return back for TD’s.
Time and time again when it looked like the Cougars would turn the tide and grab the momentum, Gladwin would take it back. Many in the state may have thought the same thing, that Catholic Central might turn the tide at any moment. The final score reads a close, tight battle. But if we’re being honest, Gladwin came out poised in this game. They set the tone early and seized momentum right from the start. Gladwin, from start to finish, thoroughly dominated a state power. They were the more physical team and controlled the pace, there was never a sway in that. You could sense it that it would be there day. They seized the moment making Catholic Central to their terms. One team was dominate, and that was the Gladwin Flying G’s.
Gladwin has gotten off to quick starts all year and set the tone early in games. They have propelled themselves into the state finals and you get the feeling there’s still some meat on the bone and these guys are hungry. They’ll face a stiff test in a team that plays similar to their style, Frankenmuth. The Eagles dominated in their semifinal over Country Day. Now these two will put their undefeated records on the line next Saturday for the Division 5 Championship. Game time is slated for Saturday inside Ford Field.