Blissfield coach Ron Estes hesitates when his football team is linked to the word destiny.
But his undefeated Royals absolutely seem to be on a predetermined course guided by some irresistible power. Call it fate, fortune or charisma, but Blissfield is 13-0 and will play for a state title this afternoon.
"You want to try to avoid that thinking," Estes said. "You want to make sense of everything. But sometimes you just can't. That's when words like fate and destiny are used.
"But we feel we're here because of the values we talk about - playing hard and having a good attitude. That's when some good things start to happen."
Good things indeed. Blissfield will take on defending state champion Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central in a Division 6 state final at 4:30 p.m. today at Ford Field. The Royals earned the chance to win their first state championship after overtime obstacles were magically hurdled and a last-second Hail Mary was answered.
John Estes, the coach's son and dual threat quarterback, has sparked comeback wins with his ability to improvise.
"We've just had things fall our way," he said. "We've had some comeback wins. Maybe there is a reason for that. Maybe it is our season."
It started with a thrilling two-point upset over Onsted in double OT that essentially clinched the Lenawee County Athletic Association title. Blissfield mounted two rallies led by Estes, who blocked a potential game-winning field goal, scored a rushing TD in the first overtime and threw the tying touchdown in an 18-10 win.
"We were 5-0 when we played Onsted. But I'm not sure anyone thought we could win it except us," coach Estes said. "When we did win it, I had an inkling there was something special about this team."
Then in a district final against perennial power Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Blissfield triumphed on a bomb from Estes to Aaron Hudson with no time left on the clock.
"The Monroe St. Mary game opened some eyes," coach Estes said. "It confirmed that there was something special with this team. It showed that they are gamers and that these kids will keep fighting until the very end."
And finally there was another come-from-behind win last week in the state semifinals. This time the Royals rallied for a 21-14 win in double overtime over Leslie.
"I hope people have learned not to leave until it's all over. We will use every last second," coach Estes said. "Now as we go on it has become that mental toughness thing. We've won several of these."
With the Royals having gone further than any team in school history, it seems as though the entire town of just over 3,000 will be at Ford Field.
"It's unbelievable," said senior linebacker Dean Schnieder, who leads the team in tackles, sacks and big defensive plays. "Today we had pep rallies at all three schools. This town is just going crazy."
Estes said the school has already sold over 2,000 tickets. Banners festoon the storefronts of businesses and most yards have purple and gold signs.
"I guarantee there will be plenty of loud Blissfield folks there," he said.
But the last remaining obstacle is a Nouvel team that is steeped in tradition. The Panthers have qualified for the playoffs on 20 occasions and won the 2006 title. But Nouvel lost 30 seniors to graduation and are 9-3.
"We know they will be the best team we've played," Johnny Estes said. "They have great tradition. But to be the best you have to beat the best. They are still champs. We'll find out who is the best this year."
Nouvel, which has outscored its opponents by an average of 23-16 in the postseason, has been led by quarterback David Kazmierski and running back Jacob Porath.
But defense has been the Panthers' strength beginning with senior linebacker Ryan Palmer, who is a three-year starter.
"It's only fitting that we get a great opportunity to play the defending champs," coach Estes said. "This is what we want.
"I used the example of Boise State and Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last year. You had powerhouse Oklahoma that just won a national championship and it was Boise State's first time in a bowl game and they were just having fun."
John Estes called Ford Field the ultimate stage.
"It will be electric," he said. "The Blissfield crowd will be roaring. Everyone is so jacked. But we have to scale it down. If we play our game things should turn out right."
Estes has thrown for 15 TDs and has only three picks. He has been sacked once out of 102 throws. He has over 700 yards of passing and has rushed for more than 500. Senior Luke Shrader leads the Royals with 1,172 rushing yards and 16 TDs. Junior Zach Waldvogel has 1,103 yards and five scores.
"We don't let anything get us down," said Schnieder, who also rushed for 62 yards last week. "Our will can not be broken. There are only two teams left now. If we beat them, we are the best of the best."
Coach Estes said Nouvel is the fastest team his team has played and has the experience off playing under the brightest of lights.
"But our advantage is that we've won some games that maybe we shouldn't have," Estes said. "We're battled tested in tight games."
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