DETROIT – So began the legacy of Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith.
And so continues an incredible run by one of Michigan’s newest football powerhouses.
The Yellowjackets pushed their winning streak to 28 and claimed their second straight MHSAA championship by downing Constantine 42-14 in Friday's Division 6 Final.
They did so led by a number of last season’s top players, but minus their 2010 Final star. That’s where the sophomore Smith came in, joining the starting lineup in the season’s second week and bringing Ithaca back to Ford Field for another title.
“It’s more special just because this is the last time to suit up for most of us. We’re not going to be able to play another game next year, and we get to end on the biggest stage high school football has to offer in Michigan,” Ithaca senior linebacker/running back Garrett Miniard said.
“I think it was almost a little jealousy of the seniors last year of being able do that, being able to go out on top. I think that kept us going throughout the season, throughout the offseason. Being able to have that luxury of going out on top just like they did.
Ithaca (14-0) hasn’t lost since its 2009 Semifinal against Montague. With two more wins to start next fall, the Yellowjackets can become the 14th team on the MHSAA record book list with at least 30 straight victories.
And Smith should be there to lead the way. He connected on 18 of 25 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown Friday, and ran for 43 yards and a score. Miniard rushed for 43 yards and two touchdowns, and had 14 tackles. And senior David Brown caught six passes for 122 yards and also ran for a score.
Smith followed the path this fall of another former sophomore starter at his position – Alex Niznak, who graduated in the spring, plays at Central Michigan now, but didn’t leave before leading the Yellowjackets to both their first Semifinal berth and MHSAA championship over the last two seasons. Niznak’s title game performance last season included 251 yards passing, 138 rushing and an MHSAA Finals-record five touchdowns running the ball.
Brown originally took over at quarterback this fall. But he was injured on opening night – after running for three touchdowns against Williamston – and missed significant time, allowing Smith to take hold of the offense. Smith finished his first varsity season with a not-too-shabby 2,310 passing yards, 969 rushing yards, and a combined 48 touchdowns throwing or running.
“Coach (Terry) Hessbrook told me to just go in there and do what I can do, and just play football,” Smith said. “I’ve got so many good athletes around me. I just need to get my players the ball and let them do what they can do.”
Ithaca twice had catching up to do in the Final, with Constantine (11-3) scoring first and then taking a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter – before the Yellowjackets rolled to 35 unanswered points.
“These kids had this goal since last year … of getting back here,” Hessbrook said. “We didn’t want Ithaca football to just be one and done, or a one-year wonder. And they’ve worked really hard.”
Constantine junior Ben Mallo did run 17 times for 189 yards and both scores. But the Falcons were without quarterback Tommy Reed, who was injured during last week’s Semifinal win over Ecorse. They played Ithaca to a 14-14 halftime tie before the Yellowjackets’ offense broke the game open.
“We’ve played offenses with that type of talent. Last week, for instance. And I’m sure Coach Hessbrook watched those films and saw some things he could do against us," Constantine coach Shawn Griffith said. "It’s a lot different than what we do, and you saw we caused them a little bit of problems early in the game as well. We do our thing, they do theirs. They do their thing very well. We did ours well. We just weren’t quite there on a couple drives that ended short.”