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November 28, 2012

Oakland County teams play huge role in football state finals

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Brother Rice junior Jason Alessi (4) holds the D-2 trophy after Rice knocked off Muskegon High 35-28. Alessi scored the game’s winning touchdown on a 91-yard kick return with 2:13 remaining in regulation.

DETROIT — For some, it was the perfect end to the perfect season.

For others, it was a heartbreaking finish that ended one win shy of greatness.

Regardless of the final result, for Oakland County football teams, the 2012 MHSAA championships served as another coming-out party, once again establishing the area as one of the richest in football talent throughout the state.

For the first time ever
In its long and storied history, the Birmingham Brother Rice program never knew what it was like to celebrate back-to-back state titles.

That all changed Nov. 23, when Rice defended last year’s crown with a thrilling 35-28 victory against Muskegon High in the Division 2 final.

“It’s kind of hard to express,” said coach Al Fracassa of the second straight championship; he’s won nine in his 44-year career at Rice. “I’ve never accomplished this (back-to-back championships), ever. … I’m kind of proud of that. I fit in that category now.”

Rice led 14-7 at the half, and the score was even at 14-14 after three quarters.

The fourth, however, may go down as one of the best in finals history, as the teams traded touchdowns one after another, including Rice taking a 28-21 lead when Alex Malzone hit Corey Lacanaria on a 77-yard flea flicker with 3:29 remaining in the game.

Muskegon (12-2) answered 58 seconds later, but Rice (12-2) countered with a cross-field lateral on the ensuing kickoff.

“Once I heard we were going to call that, I was pretty excited,” said Brother Rice junior Jason Alessi, who was on the receiving end of the trick play, with a laugh. “I didn’t know it’d go for a touchdown, but I knew it could be a big play.”

Alessi sprinted 91 yards for the title-clinching score.

“It’s one of those ‘forever games,’” said Fracassa, who has not decided if he’ll return to the sidelines next year or retire. “When we get together in 10 years or so, God willing I am still here, it’s (a win) we’ll still be talking about.”

Overtime heartbreak, again
As thrilling as the Rice game was, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s may have been part of the season’s most memorable contest the following night in the D-3 final against Grand Rapids Christian.

In a game that featured a finals-record 1,033 yards of offense, Grand Rapids Christian broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone, and then Joel Schipper nailed a 27-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 40-37 overtime victory.

“This was two great football teams, and we came up a little short,” St. Mary’s coach George Porritt said. “They made one more play tonight than we did.”

The Eaglets got the ball first in overtime, but went for the touchdown on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal.

Grand Rapids Christian (13-1) finished with 454 yards of total offense, but it needed a 28-yard field goal from Schipper with four seconds remaining just to force overtime.

St. Mary’s compiled a finals-record 579 yards of offense, including 269 and 168 rushing yards from Parker McInnis and Grant Niemiec, respectively.

Grand Rapids Christian receiver Drake Harris finished with eight catches and a state-final record 243 yards. He also eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for receiving this season, becoming just the 12th player nationally ever to do so.

“He could elevate, he had speed, but it was like he’d catch anything thrown his way,” Porritt said of Harris, who had two fourth-down catches on the final drive of regulation.

Playing in its fourth straight D-3 final, and fifth in the past six years, St. Mary’s ends the season 11-3.

Too much power
On Nov. 23, Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day coach Dan MacLean got a firsthand look at the explosive Grand Rapids South Christian’s offense.

The Yellowjackets’ bid for a D-4 title came up empty in a 40-7 setback.

“We tried to make some adjustments as the game went on, but when you make too many mistakes against a team like this, it’s very costly,” MacLean said following the final.

When Tyler Wiegers hit Maurice Ways on a 54-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter, Country Day trailed just 14-7 at halftime.

But the Sailors scored three times in the third quarter, and then capped things four minutes into the fourth to finish the season 11-3 and earn their first championship since 2002.

“I’m very proud to get to this point, but when you’re here, you want to win,” MacLean added. Country Day ended 11-3. “At the same time, when the disappointment heals, I think we’ll be even more proud of what we did this year.”

No luck for the Shamrocks
The year had changed, but the result wouldn’t for Novi Detroit Catholic Central.

For the second straight season, the Shamrocks met Detroit Cass Tech in the D-1 final, and for the second straight season, it was Tech hoisting the championship trophy.

The Technicians took advantage of two interceptions and three fumble recoveries to roll to a 36-21 victory.

Cass Tech, which won last year’s meeting 49-13, ended the season with a 12-2 record.

Catholic Central ends 9-5.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.