Michigan beats Ohio in inaugural football all-star game

By: Christian Davis | C&G Newspapers | Published June 27, 2014

 Players from Team Michigan celebrate after beating Team Ohio in the inaugural Border Classic all-star football game June 14 at the University of Findlay. Michigan won 27-14.

Players from Team Michigan celebrate after beating Team Ohio in the inaugural Border Classic all-star football game June 14 at the University of Findlay. Michigan won 27-14.

Photo by Larry Merx

Michigan men

Local coverage-area players were well-represented in the inaugural Border Classic all-star football game with Ohio June 14 at the University of Findlay.

Here’s a look at the players who were selected to the roster and which schools they’ll be attending next year, along with the local coaching staff.

• Jason Alessi, Birmingham Brother Rice, Yale University
• Kyle Bambard, Walled Lake Western, North Carolina State University
• Curtis Brunson, Farmington High, Ohio University
• Chris Carter, Brother Rice, North Dakota State University
• Marquian Johnson, Clawson High, Saginaw Valley State University
• Alex Joss, Walled Lake Western, Ball State University
• Corey Lacanaria, Brother Rice, Ball State
• Chukwuma Okorafor, Southfield High, Western Michigan University
• Giovanni Rescigno, Warren De La Salle, Rutgers University
• Alberto Sandoval, Brother Rice, Cornell University
• Jared Wangler, De La Salle, University of Michigan
• Jalen Watts-Jackson, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Michigan State University

• Mike Zdebski, Walled Lake Western
• Michael Weiskopf, Walled Lake Western
• Scott Merchant, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley

Representatives of Team Michigan heard the chants and comments all week leading up to the inaugural Border Classic all-star football game with Team Ohio June 14 at the University of Findlay.

From the ‘O-H-I-O’ chant at the pregame banquet to comments while on campus preparing for the game, it all added to the intense atmosphere.

“Ohio was getting after us a little bit, reminding everyone why Pennsylvania left their game,” Walled Lake Western coach and head coach of Team Michigan Mike Zdebski said. “Our kids did a great job of worrying about Saturday afternoon and playing the game.”

Ohio played all-stars from Pennsylvania in the “Big 33” from 1993-2012 and 1972-76. Ohio won the last four contests and seven of the previous 10.

“When we were at the banquet, I feel like they automatically were thinking they were going to win like they won the ‘Big 33’ all the time,” Warren De La Salle’s Jared Wangler said. “That was definitely motivation.”

Birmingham Brother Rice’s Jason Alessi agreed.

“On Friday night at the banquet, there were definitely vibes that they didn’t take us seriously,” he said. “It just added to the motivation. Even if they didn’t do that, we would have been motivated, but it added fuel to our fire. I remember leaving the banquet, and everyone was ready.”

Game day
Early on, it looked like Ohio’s confidence may have been warranted, striking late in the first quarter to take a 7-0 after a 40-yard touchdown pass.

“We really controlled the tempo the whole first quarter, and then we had one breakdown on coverage,” Zdebski said. “We ran the ball up and down the field; we did everything but score. Then we give up a big play. Then it’s like, ‘Oh boy. Let’s bounce back.’”

Michigan did just that, going on to score 24 straight points, eventually leading to a 27-14 victory.

Ohio would go on to add another touchdown late in the third quarter, but by then the damage had already been done. Michigan added another field goal midway through the fourth.

Alessi said the game featured little talk on the field but plenty of physicality.

“It was very competitive, to say the least,” he said. “It was crazy. Even in playing high school football itself, that was one of the most intense games I’ve played in.”

Michigan High School Football Coaches Association All-Star Game Committee Chairman Jim Sparks agreed.

“It wasn’t your typical all-star game,” he said.

Defense was the story.

Michigan held Ohio to 220 total yards, including -4 in rushing. Ohio was sacked seven times and committed four turnovers.

Michigan finished with 293 yards, 240 of them coming on the ground, and one turnover.

Wangler, who will play for the University of Michigan next season, was named defensive MVP after leading the team with five tackles and registering a sack.

Alessi finished with three tackles and two interceptions.

Offensively, Westland John Glenn’s Devon Spaulding earned MVP honors with 79 yards rushing and a touchdown on six attempts.

Playing for more than a victory
In Sparks’ experience in previous all-star games, coaching and the ability to mold a team together in such a short period of time are keys to success.

He said Zdebski was the perfect man for the job. 

“Our kids, I think in every aspect, handled themselves like gentlemen. … They were never late for meetings, they practiced three times a day a couple of times, and gave maximum effort. By Saturday, they were all fighting for the same thing, which was great,” he said. “The game was just a culmination of all the hard work put in by (Zdebski) and the kids.”

Michigan also wanted to prove it was worthy of the matchup.

Ohio is one of the premiere hotbeds for high school football talent, whereas Michigan is often thought of as being in the middle of the road.

“They send more kids to (Division I) programs, but we felt we have some good programs up here, too, and our coaches are just as good as anyone down there,” Sparks said.

Zdebski said he heard from fellow coaches that Michigan shouldn’t be in the game because the kids could be embarrassed.

“It just shows how wrong they were, and how hard the kids worked and why it’s going to be a great game going forward,” he said.

Zdebski admitted there was pressure felt by his staff and his team, and there was a huge amount of relief to return home with a victory.

“I think what’s going to stand out most is that no one gave Michigan a chance to win this game, and we did,” he said. “It set a standard — a national standard. It’s not only people in Michigan and Ohio talking about this, but people around the country, because Michigan beat Ohio (in a high school football game), and that’s not supposed to happen.”

Alessi said the team took great pride in being the first to compete in this annual event. Next season, the game will be played in Michigan; a date and place still have to be chosen.

“I don’t know if it was pressure or what, but we couldn’t let the whole state down,” Alessi said. “It didn’t matter what school you were going to play for next year — everyone wanted to beat Ohio.”