Romeo beat Eisenhower 21-14, teams put aside rivalry in honor of fallen Bulldog, Gavin Miller (Story by: Terry Foster)

After players from Romeo and Eisenhower put away the Billy clubs, brass knuckles and kitchen knives for the final time Friday night in Romeo, they knelt together in prayer.

They thanked God for a relatively safe night, but the Bulldogs from Romeo mostly thanked their visitors from Eisenhower for putting aside petty hatred and help them celebrate the life of fallen comrade Gavin Miller, a rising junior at Romeo who died in May during an early morning single car crash on the back roads of northern Macomb County.

After the Bulldogs (3-1) hugged their rivals, Romeo players celebrated a hard fought 21-14 victory over Eisenhower (1-3) before an over flow crowd at Barnabo Stadium in Romeo. Running back Brock Horne scored the game-winning touchdown on a brilliant 45 yard run with 7:25 remaining.

Linebacker Cole Karwowicz preserved the victory with a stuff of Eisenhower running back Caleb Oyster, who helped drive his team inside the 10 yard line late in the game.

Miller knew people from both schools because they’d hang out together at the Romeo Peach Festival or during wrestling meets. He was also a humorous kid, quick with a smile, and a handy man who could fix just about anything.

That’s why students from both schools wore yellow ribbons and body paint featuring his number 57 with the slogan Bulldog for life. Eisenhower students also painted their school rock yellow – Miller’s favorite color.

He lost control of his car during a May after a dispute with a friend and was thrown outside the vehicle. Everybody knew him and everybody loved him.

“There is nothing bad you can say about him,” Romeo linebacker Bryce Tinson said. “He was the nicest kid you’d ever meet. He would do stuff nobody else would do. That is why we honored him.”

The sportsmanship between the border rivals is like Wolverine and Spartan players walking across the Spartan Stadium turf locked in arms. Or Michigan State students painting Sparty maize and blue to honor a Michigan player. It just doesn’t happen with bitter rivals.

“I’ll be honest I was surprised they did it because of the rivalry,” said Tinson. “But it was a great thing. They put aside the rivalry to come out and support us.”

This was a typical Eisenhower-Romeo game where gaining yards came with the ease of climbing Mt. Everest. However, both teams made big splash plays which prevented this from becoming a 14-7 grinder.

Eisenhower has paved its way to success over the years through the air. But quarterback Blake Rastigue completed just 5 of 14 passes for 82 yards and two interceptions. One of those completions was a 42-yard touchdown strike to Ian Kennelly on the game’s opening drive.

Oyster grinded out 65 yards on the ground for Ike on 21 carries.

Romeo led 14-7 after three quarters thanks to a one yard quarterback sneak by Jack Wendt and a 7-yard touchdown run by Horne.

It was a grinder the rest of the way. Now the rivals are in two different spots. Eisenhower, one of the state’s top teams, must find a way to win five more games to get into the Division I playoffs. Romeo already has three wins and is feeling pretty good.

“We have a lot of kids out now, but we’ve got people stepping up and making plays Karwowicz said.

Karwowicz is one of those people. He recorded two sacks and recovered a fumble after teammate Mitchel Hardy stripped a ball carrier of the ball.

“I knew their plays and their formations,” Karwowicz said. “I just knew what to do.”