Orchard LakeDecember 7, 2011
St. Mary’s casts demons of years past away for one night of perfection
By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer
DETROIT — There were tears yet again.
On the same ground that’s known so much anguish and heartbreak in years past, they flowed once again.
But this was something different.
These were tears grown men and high school kids alike were proud to shed.
These were emotions longing to escape for nearly a decade.
Here, in this moment, was a new chapter of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s football.
Let the tears flow.
Let the party begin.
The Eaglets are officially back on top.
“I’m just glad we could finally win one,” a usually reserved coach George Porritt said with a smile that seemingly spread from one corner of Ford Field to the next following the Division 3 championship. “This was a collective effort. All year long, we’ve focused on a state title. We’ve played a great schedule and some great football. I’m just so proud of these kids.”
He’s been proud before, and rightfully so. Since their Division 4 title in 2000, the Eaglets played in five state championships, five times taking the runner-up trophy back to Orchard Lake.
There was to be no sixth.
On this Nov. 26 evening, the final game of MHSAA football’s final weekend belonged to those in red, white and black.
Mount Pleasant was the opponent, and a worthy one. The Oilers entered the game 13-0 and riding a wave of momentum their program has never known.
But these Eaglets were playing for more than one win.
In case anyone wasn’t sure about the Eaglets’ desire, junior fullback Grant Niemiec made it very clear on just the fourth play from scrimmage, rumbling 48 yards to give St. Mary’s a 7-0 lead before anyone had finished their first handful of popcorn.
Less than three minutes later, in a sport where teammates often refer to each other as brothers, Niemiec’s cousin, senior Spencer McInnis, dashed 69 yards to the end zone.
The celebration was just beginning.
Mount Pleasant calmed the raucous crowd late in the first quarter, grabbing a score of its own to make the game 14-7.
It would never be closer.
McInnis had two more touchdowns in him. James Ross, a two-time state runner-up, took his turn finding pay dirt. Junior Parker McInnis, Spencer’s younger brother, also scored on a 60-yard run.
Everything was going the Eaglets’ way. By the time the dust had settled, St. Mary’s was in cruise control, beating the Oilers 45-7.
Spencer McInnis, the unquestioned star of the game, was asked if this win was for this team or for all the guys that had come so close before him.
He just smiled.
“Both,” he said. “There hasn’t been a state title here in 10 years. We had to win this one for ourselves and for all the alumni out there.”
Just days before the final game, Porritt had to answer questions about the five-game finals losing streak.
“I’m sure the kids know about it, and it’s tough not to think about it,” Porritt said then. “All I want them to do is go out, play hard and enjoy this.”
The Eaglets controlled the ground game, rushing for 478 yards to Mount Pleasant’s 122. And defensively, they held Mount Pleasant, which was averaging 273 yards rushing and 37 points per game, in check.
“This was a such a great team win,” said Niemiec, who finished with 96 yards rushing on 11 carries. Spencer McInnis ended up with 213 on 23 carries, while Parker McInnis chipped in 96 yards on nine attempts.
“It hasn’t even set in yet that we actually did it, but this is something we’ve been building towards for so long. You take things one week at a time, and to finally get it. It’s just incredible.”
As players past and present gathered to celebrate on the field, eventually taking the trophy toward the stands, it was clear this title was as much for the 2011 Eaglets as it was for all who’ve battled before.
“This is a day I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid watching my brothers play,” Niemiec said of his older brothers, Austin, who lost in the 2001 final as a sophomore, and Pierce, who was a junior when the 2007 team fell in the final. “We were talking this morning, and they both had one thing to say to me.”
He paused, smiled and whipped a tear before continuing.
“All they said was, ‘Bring one home.’”