Brother Rice Finds Championship Burst

November 23, 2012

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — Jason Alessi appeared to be running out of gas.

The Birmingham Brother Rice junior was all over the football field, matching teammate John Plaskey with a game-high 12 tackles from his free safety position in the MHSAA Division 2 championship game against Muskegon on Friday at Ford Field.

Alessi ran down ball carriers on back-to-back big plays late in the third quarter to make touchdown-saving tackles, but got up slowly on the next play after missing a tackle in the backfield. For someone who spent the day chasing Muskegon's speedy backs, who could blame him if fatigue was setting in?

With a championship on the line, however, Alessi still had 91 yards and the dream of a lifetime within him.

On the kickoff following a game-tying touchdown, Alessi caught a cross-field lateral from sophomore Delano Madison and went 91 yards for the championship touchdown with 2:13 remaining in Brother Rice's 35-28 victory over Muskegon in an epic battle between two of Michigan's premier programs.

It was the eighth MHSAA championship for Brother Rice, which won consecutive titles for the first time.

"Our motto here is never give up," Alessi said. "We played our hearts out. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We knew we had to give our whole heart into it. We left everything we could out on the field. It was amazing."

With the experience of 53 years of head coaching at his disposal, legendary Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa gave the green light to run a gadget play the Warriors (12-2) didn't install until the week of the championship game.

Fracassa admitted he was skeptical about even using practice time to work on a somewhat-risky lateral play, but deferred to coach David Sofran, who runs the special teams. Brother Rice considered running the play on its first kick return and also to open the second half, but didn't pull this one out of the bag of tricks until after Muskegon tied the game 28-28 on a 51-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Deshaun Thrower to Keondre Craig with 2:31 left in the game.

"We practiced it every day in practice for the last week," Alessi said. "A couple times it did not work. It would be a bad throw or I caught it and there would be guys in front of me. It was a huge risk. Once I heard the coach call that play, I was really excited. I knew it could be a really big play. I didn't know it would be a touchdown, but I knew it would be a huge play."

Madison caught the kickoff at the 4-yard line, took a few steps forward, then passed the ball back to Alessi. Alessi had a clear path down the left side, made some defenders miss at midfield, and was in the clear.

"It's almost unreal," Alessi said. "I dreamed about this moment. Who knew it would come true? It's an amazing feeling."

It was the second trick play Brother Rice used to take the lead in a frantic fourth quarter that will go down as one of the greatest in championship game history.

Two plays after Muskegon (12-2) tied the game 21-21 on an 11-yard run by Marcus Smith, Brother Rice recaptured the lead on a 77-yard flea-flicker pass from sophomore Alex Malzone to junior Corey Lacanaria with 3:29 left in the game. 

The play began with a handoff to junior running back Brian Walker, who pitched the ball back to Malzone. Lacanaria, who opened the scoring with a 16-yard catch, was wide open behind the Muskegon defense when he caught the ball at the Big Reds' 41-yard line.

"We had the feeling right before they threw that flea-flicker that if we could get a stop right then, our offense was moving," Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. "They were a little tired. Their hands were on their hips. Our kids did a great job of conditioning in the pool room all week, but they made the call and the play and we didn't."

Muskegon hung in there, despite an ankle injury to senior standout quarterback Jalen Smith, who had a game-high 138 yards on 17 carries. Smith was injured with 2:38 left in the third quarter, but Thrower came in and tied the game 14-14 with a 1-yard touchdown run. Smith came back for three plays on the next drive, but didn't play during the final 9:43. Thrower, who attempted only seven passes all season, went 8-for-17 for 143 yards and a touchdown.

"Jalen got hurt," Thrower said. "He had the offense moving real good. I didn't want to slow the tempo down. I wanted to make plays. I didn't want the seniors' last game to be off a loss."

Brother Rice appeared to have the game wrapped up when Thrower threw an incompletion on fourth-and-12 with 57 seconds left in the game. But a fumbled snap while the Warriors were going to take a knee gave Muskegon the ball at its own 5-yard line with 55 seconds to go.

Thrower completed three passes for 46 yards, getting the ball to Brother Rice's 49-yard line before the game ended with an incompletion toward the end zone as time expired.

"We had a lot of players just making great plays out there," Brother Rice senior linebacker Jon Reschke said. "We stopped (Muskegon's ground game). We shut it down. We got them running other things that they didn't want to run, like throwing the ball. They're an 80-percent run team. Everyone knows they're a great rushing team. They had a great rushing game this game, but we got them out of that and got them to pass in the fourth quarter. That's what won us the ball game."

Brother Rice got out to a 14-0 lead on back-to-back scoring drives in the first half before Muskegon's defense settled in and kept the Warriors off the board on their next five possessions. Muskegon cut the margin to 14-7 on a 9-yard run by Javontae Langston with 6:28 left in the second quarter. After a lull in the action, the teams proceeded to score 42 points in the final 13:58 of the game.

"I thought the game was never going to end, really," Fracassa said. "I was suffering down there, 'C'mon, get this game going!' It's just a wonderful thing to happen to a team. They're going to remember it forever."

The burning question after the game was whether this would be the farewell appearance for Fracassa, the winningest coach in Michigan high school football history. He has a 416-117-7 record in eight years at Royal 

Oak Shrine and 44 at Brother Rice. He recently turned 80.

Fracassa said he hasn't made a decision on his future.

"I have to go home and talk to my wife about this," Fracassa said. "I love the game. It's done so much for me. It gave me a scholarship to Michigan State. I played football, baseball and basketball in high school. Sports mean a lot to me. I'd like to give back. If I can coach in some capacity, if the good Lord is good to me and gives me good health, I'd like to help somebody out. I have to make the decision pretty soon. My birthday came fast a few weeks ago."

Shon Powell ran seven times for 97 yards and a touchdown for Brother Rice. Malzone was 8-for-10 for 167 yards and two touchdowns, while Cheyne Lacanaria was 4-for-6 for 44 yards and a touchdown as the Warriors' quarterback tandem.

Click for full statistics and to watch a replay of the game. See below for the full press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Brother Rice and coach Al Fracassa pose with the Division 2 championship trophy Friday. (Middle) Brother Rice's Jason Alessi (4) runs toward the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown late in the title game. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.