Warren De La Salle's Nolan Schultz leaps over a Birmingham Groves defender Nov. 17 in a Division 2 state semifinal. With the victory, the Pilots are heading back to the title game.

Warren De La Salle's Nolan Schultz leaps over a Birmingham Groves defender Nov. 17 in a Division 2 state semifinal. With the victory, the Pilots are heading back to the title game.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


De La Salle football set to play for state title after stuffing Groves

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Online Only | Published November 17, 2018

 Birmingham Groves' Damonte McCurdy looks to gain the edge against De La Salle in the D-2 state semifinal.

Birmingham Groves' Damonte McCurdy looks to gain the edge against De La Salle in the D-2 state semifinal.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

HAZEL PARK — The defense for the Warren De La Salle football team has been the team’s strength for three years, according to coach Mike Giannone.

That proved true in the team’s 28-0 Nov. 17 win over Birmingham Groves in a Division 2 state semifinal. The Pilots in the win held the Falcons (10-3) to less than 100 yards of offense. Groves this season had scored at least 28 points in 11 of 12 games heading into the semi, and had eclipsed 35 points seven times.

“Our defensive coaches do a great job of putting our guys in the right position,” Giannone said following the win. “And our players are great. That unit is full of great players.”

One of those players, De La Salle senior linebacker Jacob Dobbs, put an exclamation point on the win with a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown with 7:46 left to give the Pilots the 28-0 lead.

The Pilots forced two turnovers in the game — both interceptions that led to touchdowns.

“They ran that same play earlier in the game,” Dobbs said. “I just jumped the screen and I was able to score.”

De La Salle (11-2) will face Muskegon Mona Shores (12-1) in the D-2 final. Mona Shores downed Midland High 49-28 Nov. 17 to get to the title game. The Pilots beat Mona Shores 44-8 in the 2014 state title game, which gave De La Salle its first football state championship. A win Nov. 23 would give the Pilots back-to-back state titles and three in five seasons.

“You can’t really describe the feeling of playing for a state title,” said Giannone, who led the Pilots to the 2017 D-2 crown and who won two D-1 titles with Macomb Dakota. “Not a lot of people get the chance to do it. You work so hard to be in this position that you have to cherish it.”

De La Salle senior quarterback Nolan Schultz opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown rush to put his team up 7-0 late in the first quarter.

Pilots senior running back Evan Valliancourt scored on runs of 3 yards and 2 yards in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, and finished with 67 yards rushing.

Giannone called Valliancourt a work horse — a title Valliancourt relishes.

“Everybody’s got to do their job and mine is to get the tough yards,” Valliancourt said. “Now we have a chance to go back-to-back.”

Groves coach Brendan Flaherty credited the De La Salle defense for taking his team off its game. He said falling behind forced the Groves staff to change its gameplan.

A big play to start the third quarter stopped Groves from building some momentum, Flaherty said. One the first play of the second half, Schultz kept the ball on an option and ran 64 yards on a play that would set up Valliancourt’s first score.

“I kind of messed up by not giving the ball to the running back,” said Schultz, who ran for 80 yards and threw for another 65 yards. “There was a wide open spot, and I hit it. It was a big play.”