DETROIT — It’s been Montague’s mission ever since 2019 ended with semifinal heartbreak: Get back to Ford Field, and win.

Friday night, the Wildcats completed that mission with another dominant performance, blanking an imposing Clinton offense in the second half and pulling away for a 40-14 victory that secured the school’s third state title in football, and first since 2009.

It was a dream finish for Montague coach Pat Collins, whose quarterback son, Drew, again played impeccable football in leading the team to the title in his final game. The Wildcats had three other seniors playing their last games for their assistant coach dads as well — Hayden McDonald, Trey Mikkelsen and Sam Smith — and each played tremendously.

“I cried all week every time you guys kept asking me these questions, so I told myself when I (got to the press conference), I know something’s coming, but I’m not crying this time,” coach Collins said with a grin after the game. “But I’ll say, how does it get any better than winning a state title? It’s been a phenomenal run, and just, pinch me, man. It’s been amazing.”

The two teams were in a dogfight at halftime, with the Wildcats leading 19-14 despite the fact that Clinton had done exactly what it set out to do on offense: Play keep-away. The ninth-ranked squad held the ball for nearly an entire quarter (10:56 of game time) on one drive, a 19-play, 80-yard march that ended with a touchdown that put it ahead, 14-13.

Montague, naturally, scored in barely a minute in response, with Collins hitting Dylan Everett for a long gain that set up Everett for a two-yard scoring run, and the Wildcats went into the locker room with confidence.

It was confidence that was well-earned. Montague was able to come up with a key stop on fourth-and-2 on Clinton’s opening third-quarter drive, and the ‘Cats swiftly scored on a long pass from Collins to Smith — Smith’s third touchdown grab of the game.

“I thought the coaches did a great job,” coach Collins said. “Our staff is phenomenal. We made some adjustments. But really, this team is run by the players, and it starts with the seniors. Their determination is really what makes the difference. It was about their heart coming out in the second half, and really finding the energy to stand up to a great Clinton team.”

That score made it 26-14, and Montague’s explosive offense was off and running. Aided by a Mikkelsen interception on what would be Clinton’s only pass attempt, Collins would score rushing touchdowns on each of his last two drives of the game before giving way to the reserves.

Collins was 15-of-19 for 244 yards and three scores through the air and had 51 rushing yards and two scores as well. It was a fitting end to a spectacular season that earned Collins AP state player of the year honors.

“I said the first week of the playoffs, we’re going to treat every week like it’s a state championship game, and we did that,” Drew Collins said. “We try to win the game Monday through Thursday, Monday through Friday. The coaches do a great job setting us up, and the offense has really executed the last six games in the playoffs.”

Smith was Collins’ favorite target, with five catches for 96 yards and his three scores. The senior wideout also had six tackles on defense, and got off the line of the night in the postgame press conference when asked if this was his best career game.

“Uh, yeah,” Smith deadpanned after a beat. (Coach Collins added with a grin, “Yes, it is.”)

“He was coming down and hitting some people, making some great catches, he was all over the place,” Collins added of Smith. “Samuel, he’s the man. Great game by him.”

The game started inauspiciously for the Wildcats, as Zackery Nelson fumbled the opening kickoff return, but Montague recovered and put together an impressive drive in 4:08 to score a touchdown on a short Collins-Smith connection. The Wildcats converted two fourth-and-short runs on the drive to send the early message that its line could grind out possessions just as well as the run-heavy Clinton team could.

A big run by Clinton’s Brayden Randolph, who had 194 rushing yards total, set his team up for a tying score before Collins and Smith hooked up again for a 44-yard score. A wide snap resulted in a missed PAT, which allowed Clinton to take the lead with that long drive, but that was the last time Montague allowed a point.

“Montague is an outstanding football team with great athletes,” Clinton coach Jeremy Fielder said. “They were prepped. They were ready. They’ve been here before...I just think they can do it all.”

As time wound down and the reality of Montague’s championship began to set in, hugs and tears were plentiful on the Wildcat sideline. Drew Collins and lineman Walker Martin in particular seemed to be hugging everyone they could find.

After a season unlike any in high school football history, it was easy to guess where the emotion came from. But for the senior quarterback, it was about more than just a well-earned state title — it was a recognition of all that was done, not just by the team but by Montague as a whole, to get them to the mountaintop.

“Everybody on this football team, coaches, players, trainers, everybody on this team loves high school football,” Drew Collins said. “The stuff weighing on that game was more than just football. We really love football and we love the community and we love each other, and that’s why it was so emotional.”

“One of our slogans is Brothers for Life,” coach Collins added. “You get a seven-month season, all that time together, you go through some major resilience and some tough adversity, and you just keep clawing with these guys and they win a state title. I don’t know how much stronger a brother(hood) you could have than that.”

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