Porritt has nothing but praise for seniors, 2012 team after finals loss
The sound was the unmistakable thud of perfection as the ball exploded off his foot.
In an instant, half the stadium erupted with elation, while the other watched in disbelief, knowing the outcome, yet hoping against hope for some miracle to derail it.
On this night, though, there were no miracles left, nothing to change this ball’s trajectory as it sailed perfectly through the uprights and then into the net behind the goalposts.
From 27-yards out, one of the wildest football finals ever, officially ended.
Dreams were realized, hearts were broken.
“This was two great football teams, and we came up a little short,” St. Mary’s coach George Porritt said, following the 40-37 overtime loss to Grand Rapids Christian in the Nov. 24 Division 3 final.
The game was a roller coaster of big plays, big hits and big emotion.
Grand Rapids Christian led 20-7 late in the first half, but the Eaglets battled back to eventually even the game at 20-20.
A Grand Rapids Christian touchdown, followed by an Eaglets defensive safety and offensive touchdown eventually put the guys in red and white up 30-27 early in the fourth.
But two more touchdowns, two lead changes and a 28-yard field goal by Grand Rapids Christian’s Joel Schipper with four seconds remaining forced the extra session.
After the Eaglets failed to score on fourth down, Schipper hit the 27-yarder to end the 2012 season.
After the game, Porritt was quick to praise his players, especially his seniors.
“This was an awesome senior class,” Porritt boasted. “This was one of the best groups in this program’s history.”
The numbers back up his claim.
While running back Grant Niemiec was the only senior to see time on the varsity as a freshman, the Eaglets’ program knew nothing but success in the four years this group was a part of it.
Since 2009, St. Mary’s has a 43-13 overall record.
In that same span, the Eaglets appeared in four Prep Bowl championship games, won the Catholic League’s playoff this season, and appeared in four straight D-3 finals.
“They’ve continued the tradition of the kids in front of them,” Porritt said simply. “They came into this program as freshmen, grew up with it and added to the legacy. It was a very special group.”
Much of this year’s roster played a huge role in the 2011 state championship.
And when 2012 got going, they didn’t skip a beat.
After opening the year with a 21-14 loss to Muskegon High — the eventual runner-up in D-2 — St. Mary’s went on a six-game winning streak that included victories against Birmingham Brother Rice (D-2 champ) and Detroit Cass Tech (D-1 champ).
After stumbling against Novi Detroit Catholic Central in Week 8, St. Mary’s rebounded the next weekend to beat the Shamrocks in the Prep Bowl.
Four playoff wins later — by an average of 31.5 points per game — St. Mary’s was back at Ford Field in a final game for the fifth time in six years.
“It was a tremendous ride with these kids,” Porritt said. “Their passion for the game of football was unbelievable.”
While some coaches admit to being so caught up in the journey of a season that it’s often tough to enjoy it while it’s happening, Porritt said he never had that problem.
“Maybe after the first game wasn’t that fun, but truthfully, I loved coming to practice every day with these guys,” he said. “There weren’t any issues you ever had to deal with. These seniors set the example, and the rest of the team followed. Every day, it was just like they showed up, did their job, and loved being around each other and taking part in this game.”
The passion this crop of seniors had for the sport is what Porritt said he’ll remember the most.
Guys like Niemiec — who set the program record for rushing yards in a season this fall with 1,910 — Parker McInnis, who rushed 269 yards in the final, or seniors up and down the offensive and defensive lines who defined what Eaglets football is all about, left their mark on a program that won’t soon be forgotten.
The challenge now, though, is finding a way to once again continue it.
“That’s the interesting part,” Porritt said. “You always believe you have a chance to do some of the same things every year. We have good kids coming back, but when you play the schedule we do, you’re always a few plays away from being in or out of the playoffs. But you have to look forward to that challenge. That’s the fun of coaching. It’s a challenge for me, and it’s a challenge for every young man we have coming back.”