HARTLAND — Over the years, the Hartland football team hasn’t had much in the way of titles, which made Friday’s win over Canton all the sweeter.
“It’s huge,” said quarterback Sam Clay after the Eagles won the KLAA West Division title by dominating Canton, 21-0, on a rainy night at Hartland High School. “It’s only the fourth one all-time at Hartland, so that’s huge. We’ve been working so hard to get it, and to finally get it feels so good.”
The Eagles tied with Howell with the division’s best record, but won the tiebreaker (beating Howell 29-7 a couple of weeks ago) and will face East Division champ Belleville next week for the KLAA championship.
Hartland’s formula for victory was simple: Use its road-grader offensive line to clear the way, and give the ball to Joey Mattord.
The plan worked. Mattord rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Clay, meanwhile, showed his ability to miss tackles by rushing for 85 yards, 45 of them on a single carry late in the game to remove any doubt about the outcome.
Payton Pyle, a 6-6 senior tackle, was part of an offensive line that struggled early before gaining traction late in the first half.
“It’s beautiful,” he said of blocking for Mattord and Clay. “Once we get that block, the hole opens up a bit. They hit it fast, and when they’re gone, we run downfield and get some more blocks for them and score.”
The Hartland line dominated Canton in the second half, with Mattord scoring his second touchdown by running 50 yards right up the middle, not being touched until he was tackled in the end zone.
Clay, getting his first start at quarterback in relief of an injured Brad Sollom, threw only three passes for seven yards.
Instead, the Eagles kept it on the ground. A key moment came late in the second quarter, when the Eagles had the ball fourth and 1 at the Canton 9.
‘Our coaches asked us, did we want to kick the field goal or go for it?” Clay said. “And every single player in the huddle said we were going for it. And we got our yards.”
Mattord got the first down and scored three plays later on a 3-yard run with 15 seconds left in the first half.
“We started going inside because they took the outside away where we had had success earlier,” Hartland coach Brian Savage said. “Inside, our interior linemen did a great job of putting bodies on bodies and springing Joe.”
The Eagles (7-1 overall) are tied with Belleville for ninth overall in Division 1 playoff points. The top 32 teams make the playoffs in each division.
“We told the guys after we lost to Howell in the playoffs last year that we were close,” Savage said. “The senior class bought ibnto getting into the weight room and changing things. I’m just real proud of them. They’ve been great leaders all year, and the underclassmen have bought in, too. It’s been a fun group to work with.”