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'Armada has arrived,' Tigers end North Branch's perfect season

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

As if the week 1 victory over Marine City wasn’t exciting enough, it was only a foreshadowing of what was to come six weeks later for the Armada football team.

“I would say that Armada has arrived,” head coach Kyle Rowley said. “I know there were some people saying, ‘Oh they’ve won some big games, but how good are they really?’ I think this is a testament.”

Last night Armada hosted conference-leading North Branch in one of the biggest matchups of the season. The Broncos stood 6-0 and had been averaging more than 50 points per game, but the Tigers didn’t seem to care – even after North Branch controlled the first eight minutes of the game to take a 7-0 lead.

North Branch's Ryan Henne runs the ball in Friday's game against Armada.

“The kids came to play. That’s a great team over there, they’re awesome, but the kids just came to play,” Rowley said. “I told them, ‘It’s going to be a dog fight. The team that punches the longest and punches the hardest is going to win that game.’ Fortunately, it was us and we made plays and responded when they scored.”

The Tigers opened the second quarter with a 10-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Lucas Pratt to sophomore receiver Zac Dykes. They then forced a turnover on downs when North Branch went for it on fourth-and-long with a fake punt. They got the ball back on their own 29-yard line and marched downfield until Pratt scored on a 7-yard run.

With a 13-7 lead, the Armada defense forced the Broncos to punt – for real this time – with 2:48 left in the half. The Tigers progressed just far enough for freshman kicker Drew Rosick to send a 29-yard field goal through the uprights, giving the Tigers a 16-7 lead by halftime.

The Broncos weren’t going anywhere just yet, however. They narrowed the deficit to 16-14 when senior quarterback Will Damaska connected with senior Griffin Mabery on fourth down for a 40-yard score.

But just as Rowley said, his team responded when it needed to, and the Tigers did so with a 1-yard touchdown from Pratt, another big turnover on downs on defense, and a 50-yard touchdown from senior Vinny Fodale. With 10:05 left on the clock, Armada was boasting a 30-14 lead.

“It’s a great feeling. Everyone doubts us, but it feels great to come out on top and prove the doubters wrong,” Fodale said. “There were more people in the stands, there was more energy, and it was for a conference championship, so there was a lot of energy coming with us.”

Armada's Zac Dykes blocks for teammate Kyle Coenen as he runs the ball in Friday's game against North Branch.

Even when Damaska found senior Aiden Swoish for a 50-yard touchdown just 20 seconds later, the Tigers still responded, this time with a 33-yard touchdown from Dykes. By the time the Broncos could score again – a 15-yard pass from Damaska to Mabery – the damage was done.

Fodale intercepted the ball on the Tigers’ 19-yard line with less than two minutes to go and Rowley began calling out to his team, “Victory formation!”

The Tigers had defeated the Broncos 37-28 on their home field, giving hundreds of fans a happy homecoming.

“I feel ecstatic. We’ve been working since November right after our season ended and it all led up to this moment, this moment right here. We’ve all put in the work and it shows on that scoreboard,” senior Kyle Coenen said. “It’s phenomenal. In years past it hasn’t been like this and we’re starting to bring everyone together and be one big family. I can’t ask for anything better than this.”

It was a total team effort, according to Rowley, from a consistent offense, a hard-fighting defense, and even a freshman kicker who went 4-for-5 on extra points and had a much-needed field goal.

“I think leadership really, really helps us,” defensive coordinator Clint Conrad said. “When you’ve got a guy like Dylan Watson in the front, Lukas Sleboda at linebacker, and Vinny Fodale as the straw that stirs the drink for us, with those guys communicating and all their leadership, it makes my job as a DC a lot easier.”

Armada now stands 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the BWAC – the same as North Branch and Croswell-Lexington. North Branch will host the Pioneers next Friday to decide who finishes on top. Cros-Lex had defeated Armada earlier in the season but fell to Almont in week 6. Armada will play Richmond.

“Just like a win, you’ve got 24 hours to think about it. We didn’t play tonight. Shame, it’s on me 100% as the head coach. All we can do is chin up, chest out, stand tall, and dust ourselves off and go back to work next week,” North Branch head coach Jeremy Ferman said. “The opportunity to share the BWAC title is there. We’ve got a good Cros-Lex team coming in, we’re at home, and we’ve just got to go play.”


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The Tigers celebrate a 37-28 homecoming victory over North Branch on Friday night.

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