Brother Rice football hangs on to beat Muskegon 35-28 in instant classic of a championship game
Published November 23, 2012
DETROIT — In his decades of coaching, Al Fracassa has made hundreds of game-changing decisions from the sideline.
But on Friday afternoon from Ford Field, he gave the go-ahead on a trick play even his better judgment cautioned him against.
The payoff was a second straight state title for the Birmingham Brother Rice legend as his team knocked off Muskegon High 35-28 in the Division 2 final.
“We practiced it last week, but I told one of my coaches that I didn’t think we could do it (in a game),” Fracassa said of a designed, cross-field lateral on a kick return. Rice executed the play perfectly and Jason Alessi ran 91 yards with 2:31 remaining in the fourth quarter to put Rice up for good in what was one of the greatest finals games ever played. “It’s tough (to call that play), especially with your back up against the wall, but we had to try something.”
“Once I heard we were going to call that, I was pretty excited,” Alessi said with a laugh. “I didn’t know it’d go for a touchdown, but I knew it could be a big play.”
After Muskegon tied the game at 28-28 with 2:31 remaining, Delano Madison fielded the kick at the 4 yard line, ran to his right for 5 yards, and then heaved the ball across the field to Alessi who was standing at the 9.
“As soon as I caught it, I knew it was a touchdown,” Alessi added. “I got some great blocks and just had to make one guy miss at midfield.”
“The only thing you can do in the game of football is give yourself a chance to win, and we did that,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else other than (our guys) played as hard as they did.”
Rice got the scoring started midway through the first quarter.
After Shon Powell broke free for a 54-yard run, senior quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria hit his brother Corey with a perfect pass and a 16-yard score.
The play capped an 80-yard drive that took just six plays.
Rice got the ball back shortly there after, and marched 76 yards on 11 plays, capped with Alex Malzone’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Josh Flye.
Muskegon cut the lead in half on its ensuing drive, though, covering 80 yards on 10 plays, converting a fourth down thanks to a Rice penalty, and finally getting on the board when Javontae Langston scored on a 3-yard run.
The Big Reds trailed 14-7 at halftime.
With Rice’s offense struggling to get anything going in the third quarter, Muskegon used a 24-yard punt return and a 37-yard option play to get deep into Rice territory for the third time in the frame.
Two plays after starting quarterback Jalen Smith left due to a knee injury, backup Deshaun Thrower scored on a 1-yard run, and the extra point evened the game at 14-14 with 1:58 remaining in the third.
Rice’s Shaun Jones Jr. recovered a fumble at the Muskegon 12 early in the fourth, and Powell scored on a 12-yard run just two plays later to give the Warriors a 21-14 lead with 9:30 remaining.
Muskegon used a handful of dazzling plays, and another pass interference call on fourth down, to eventually tie the game at 21-21 when Marcus Smith scored from 11 yards out with 4:22 remaining.
But three plays later, Malzone hit Corey Lacanaria on a 77-yard flea flicker that put Rice up 28-21 with 3:29 remaining in the game.
Muskegon got the ball back at its own 22, and roughly a minute later tied things again with a 51-yard pass from Deshaun Thrower to Keondre Craig.
But the ensuing kickoff saw Alessi scamper 91 yards and bring Rice its second consecutive state title.
“To be part of a game like this was tremendous,” Fracassa said. “It’s traumatic being part of it when there’s so much going on. I mean, it’s a little bit chaotic because it seemed like it would never end. … I really started to enjoy it when it ended.”
Rice’s defense did have to make one last stand after the Warriors fumbled the ball with 55 seconds remaining while trying to run out the clock.
Muskegon (12-2) eventually moved the ball to the Rice 49, but the final pass fell incomplete after the clock expired.
Powell led the Warriors’ rushing attack with 97 yards on seven carries, while Malzone completed 8-of-10 passes for 167 yards and two scores. Corey Lacanaria had five catches for 137 yards.
Smith led Muskegon with 149 yards rushing on 17 carries. Thrower came off the bench to complete 8-of-17 passes for 143 yards.
Rice, playing in its seventh championship game since 1999, ends the season 12-2, earning back-to-back championships for the first time in program history.