St. Mary's drops heartbreaker in D-3 final

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 24, 2012

 Grand Rapids Christian receiver Drake Harris hangs onto this fourth-down pass late in regulation. Harris finished the game with a finals record 243 yards and helped the Eagles win 40-37 in overtime.

Grand Rapids Christian receiver Drake Harris hangs onto this fourth-down pass late in regulation. Harris finished the game with a finals record 243 yards and helped the Eagles win 40-37 in overtime.

Photo by David Schreiber

DETROIT — In a game that featured more than 1,000 yards of offense, it was a defensive play and a field goal that ultimately decided the 2012 Division 3 state championship Saturday night at Ford Field.

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 against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

“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.”

St. Mary’s got the ball first in overtime, but on fourth down, Porritt elected to go for the touchdown from the 3-yard line instead of attempting a 20-yard field goal.

Matt Linehan’s pass to Parker McInnis was broken up at the last second.

Grand Rapids then sent out Schipper and the field-goal unit on the next play.

His kick sailed right down the middle.

“I didn’t think three points would be enough,” Porritt said when asked why he went for the touchdown in overtime instead of attempting the short kick. “If I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing.”

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

“It hurts,” Porritt said of the loss. The defending D-3 champs have now lost four championship games since 2007, two in overtime. “The kids played their butts off, though. They played with so much passion.”

The scoring started early and often.

After receiving the opening kickoff, GRC used two complete passes to set up Seth McIntosh’s 29-yard touchdown run 59 seconds into the game.

St. Mary’s answered on its ensuing possession though, traveling 80 yards of its own on eight plays, capped by Charles Croone’s 14-yard touchdown run.

Just over a minute into the second quarter, GRC took the lead back when Alex VanDeVusse hit Drake Harris with a 74-yard touchdown strike.

The Eagles scored again when VanDeVusse scampered 47 yards, and after a failed 2-point conversion, led 20-7.

Van Jefferson hauled in a 33-yard pass from Linehan with 1:43 remaining in the first half for St. Mary’s, and after each team failed to convert on field goals, GRC led 20-14 at the break.

The Eaglets evened the game on the opening drive of the second half, marching 80 yards in nine plays, setting up Grant Niemiec’s 1-yard touchdown run.

The extra point was blocked, though, keeping the score at 20-20.

But the scoreboard wouldn’t sit idle for long.

GRC scored on its ensuing drive, taking advantage of a 56-yard kick return and then scoring three plays later for a 27-20 advantage with 6:50 remaining in the third.

But on the very first play after the kickoff, McInnis ran for 62 yards inside the GRC 10-yard line. But two plays later the Eaglets fumbled the ball away at the goal line. GRC recovered the loose ball, but was pinned down for a safety two plays later.

GRC led 27-22 after three quarters, but Niemiec gave the Eaglets their first lead of the night 2:23 into the fourth on a 1-yard score.

St. Mary’s converted the 2-point conversion and led 30-27.

Again, the lead was short-lived.

GRC marched right down the field after getting the ball, and thanks in large part to a 38-yard pass to Drake Harris, the Eagles jumped back in front 34-30 on a 32-yard run by McIntosh.

But on St. Mary’s next possession of the game, Niemiec scored from 3 yards out, capping an 80-yard, 12-play drive that gave the guys in red and white a 37-34 lead that lasted until GRC marched down the field to tie the game with the last-second field goal, setting up the overtime dramatics.

St. Mary’s finished the game with 579 total yards, a finals record.

The 1,033 yards the teams combined for was also a finals record.

Parker McInnis led the rushing attack with 269 yards on 25 carries.

Niemiec finished with 168 yards and three scores on 25 carries.

VanDeVusse completed 16-of-26 passes for 307 yards, while Harris finished with eight catches and a finals-record 243 yards.

The old record for receiving yards was 204, set by Kirk Williams of Dewitt High in 2002 and Tanner McCarn of Olivet in 2010.

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

“This was an awesome senior class,” Porritt said. “This was one of the best groups in this program’s history.”

Grand Rapids Christian (13-1) was playing in its first state final in program history.