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.)

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)