Falcons Soar From Brink to D5 Peak

November 30, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

DETROIT – There were more moments than he and his teammates might’ve expected this fall when Drake Wooten sensed his high school career could soon come to an end. 

That wasn’t supposed to be the scenario after Grand Rapids West Catholic advanced to the Division 5 title game in 2012 and returned a number of its top contributors this fall.

But after opening 1-4, there was no room for error. The Falcons' seniors met to prepare for three months living on the edge. 

Teams need to win five playoff games to earn an MHSAA title. But the Falcons needed nine straight victories to claim their first championship since 2010. After scraping by with a one-point win in Week 9 just to earn a chance at an at-large bid, West Catholic stormed through the postseason and finished the run with a 27-14 win over top-ranked Menominee on Saturday at Ford Field.

“We knew ever since (1-4) that it’s a playoff game. Every game could be our last,” Wooten said. “We’ve always trusted in our team. We’ve always trusted in our coaches. We just came out and made plays and stuck to the schemes.” 

Menominee (13-1) and reigning champion Portland – which beat West Catholic 12-9 in the 2012 Final – were the only teams to get within 15 points of the Falcons during this postseason. West Catholic finished 10-4, giving it at least 10 wins in five straight seasons and six of the last seven. All four losses were to eventual playoff teams, including three Semifinalists.

And the Falcons finished the job against a team that beat its first 13 opponents by an average of 36 points and was more than raring to go after being eliminated by West Catholic each of the last three seasons – including twice in Semifinals by four or fewer points. 

“It’s become a power struggle,” West Catholic coach Dan Rohn said. “We look forward to playing them. We don’t like playing them, but we circle it when we get the opportunity. This was an opportunity to play them on the big stage.”

And like familiar opponents must do, West Catholic changed some things up – catching the Maroons off guard with arguably the play of the game. 

With the score tied 7-7 late in the third quarter and the teams matching each other stop for stop, Rohn called a play no one but the officials expected – and only because he told them about it before the game so they were prepared when he sprung it.

“Lou Lou,” named after Rohn’s mother – who died 25 years ago when Rohn was a high school player at Muskegon Orchard View – involves tight end Bryce Witham making like he’s leaving the field with the rest of the offense while his teammates line up for a field goal attempt. But Witham stopped just short of the sideline, and at the snap took off uncovered for the end zone as junior kicker Travis Hoving lofted a 30-yard pass his way. 

Hoving had been the back-up quarterback on the freshman team two years ago, and Witham had no problem reeling in the toss to put West Catholic up 14-7 with 3:26 to go in the third quarter.

“The idea is to just blend in with the rest of the team standing on the sidelines. Luckily, no one noticed me,” Witham said. 

“We are going to be prepared for each other, so you need something like that,” Rohn added. “We’ve dropped (the ball) a few times in practice. We’ve overthrown it a few times. So everyone on the sidelines was holding their breaths.”

That go-ahead score didn’t decide the game, but it certainly set a direction for the final 15 minutes. 

West Catholic scored twice over the next six, and its defense continued to lock down one of the state’s most productive offenses of this season. 

A key to Menominee’s single wing attack is being able to get around the edge of the line and then upfield. Falcons senior linebacker Max Boorsma played on his past experience against Menominee to make sure that didn’t happen much Saturday, tying for the team lead with nine tackles as the Maroons ran for only 189 yards. 

Junior defensive back Jason McDonough also had eight tackles as the Falcons caused or capitalized on two interceptions, a fumble and three turnovers on downs.

On offense, junior quarterback Travis Russell ran for 133 yards and a touchdown and threw for 176 yards and two scores. Senior Andy Corey added another 84 yards rushing. The Falcons gained 463 yards total and had only one turnover. 

“Their offensive line was really big and strong, … and Corey is a tough kid with a great heart. He proved that last year in the Semifinal game we lost to them,” Menominee senior defensive tackle Mason Kewley said. “We played good enough to points, but other points we didn’t and they took advantage of those points.”

Senior James Brown did gain 102 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground for the Maroons, and junior Justin Brilinski was a standout on both sides of the ball with 71 yards and a touchdown rushing and 158 yards passing as the team’s quarterback/tailback hybrid, plus 10 tackles from his defensive end spot. 

Junior defensive tackle Brandon Chouinard also had 10 tackles.

“We have no excuse. Last week in the (Superior) Dome against Oakridge we were almost flawless and a half, but we knew we were in for a battle today,” Menominee coach Joe Noha said. “The bottom line was they executed well. We knew what they were going to run, and they ran exactly what we prepared our kids to (stop). But they just made plays when they had to.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids West Catholic players celebrate their first MHSAA championship since 2010. (Middle) Three Falcons wrap up a Menominee ball carrier Saturday. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.) 

All-Woman Football Officiating Crew Makes History, Inspires More to be Made

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

September 26, 2023

Caryn Jackson said it “started to hit her” at about noon, some seven hours before kickoff.

An official for football games at both the high school level in Michigan and the college level for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Jackson started to fully realize what a special event she was about to participate in.

Jackson was assigned to be the head line judge for the Waterford Kettering at Detroit Lincoln-King varsity game last Thursday at Detroit Mercy, but this was a different assignment than any other.

In addition to Jackson, there were four more women to form what’s believed to be the first all-female officiating crew for a varsity football game in state history.

With that in mind, Jackson posted what was about to happen on her X (Twitter) feed hours before the game.

“It had 23,000 engagements in an hour,” Jackson said.

And all this happened without any retweets from her daughter Rikea Jackson, the 2019 Miss Basketball Award winner at Detroit Edison who plays for Tennessee and has over 10,000 followers.

The football game arrived, and right away spectators sensed they were watching history unfold.

The crew of Jackson, referee Nicole Randolph, line judge Delonda Little, umpire RanDee Henry and back judge Kamaria Douglas made history and inspired others during a night that should be impactful for a long time.

And this also wasn’t the first time they’ve led in the officiating world.

Randolph is a Big Ten football official. As noted above, Jackson officiates Division II college football. Douglass, Little and Henry all are college basketball officials as well, and Little in March became the first woman to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since 1995 when she refereed the Division 3 championship game at Breslin Center.

Here are thoughts from all five about their unforgettable evening on the football field:

Kamaria Douglas: “It was very well-received, which was an even better feeling,” she said. “There were a lot of people, whether we were in the parking lot afterward or just chit-chatting, who wanted to take pictures. People gave us kudos and flowers and said we did a nice job. It’s one thing to get an opportunity, but also to go out there and do a good job. They want to see more of it. Waterford Kettering’s coach said he was the father of three girls, so it just warmed his heart. He came over and got a picture with us, which was really cool.”

RanDee Henry: “This game, although historic, was even more amazing because I got to do it with friends,” she said. “All of these women have strong friendships on and off the field, making this moment even more amazing and monumental.”

Caryn Jackson: “For my children, I always tell them to leave your mark wherever you go and whatever you do,” she said. “Be a part of history. Who knew I would be refereeing high school, let alone doing it with all women? It feels good when I walk the football field and people are cheering just because they see a woman. People say ‘I’m glad you’re here, ref.’ I’ve had young boys walk up to me and shake my hand and say thank you for making history, and that you’re the first female official I have had. That stuff makes me feel good. To do it alongside four other women, that was amazing.”

Delonda Little: “Women are breaking barriers, and it’s nice to be acknowledged and to have some gender equality out there,” she said. “We all felt good to get the support during the game from the coaches and the fans. Both coaches told us we did a great job. Coaches wanted to take pictures with us to be a part of the historical moment. Fans as we were leaving told us we did a good job.”

Little continued: “Women, we still have a long way to go. But it’s good we are getting the acknowledgment we deserve. There should be gender equality.” 

Nicole Randolph: “The players kind of got the adrenaline going,” she said. “I was already a little nervous going into the day because it was really happening. When I got to the field, I was calm, cool and collected. When we all walked onto the field, the players were excited, and the coaches were excited. They asked for pictures and said they wanted to take pictures at the end of the game because they had never seen this many female officials at a game.”

Randolph continued: “We went in and said ‘Hey girls, this a great opportunity. Let’s make the best of it so we can continue to open the doors for other young ladies to continue to aspire (in) our footsteps.’”

PHOTO Thursday's crew at Detroit Mercy, from left: head line judge Caryn Jackson, umpire RanDee Henry, referee Nicole Randolph, line judge Delonda Little and back judge Kamaria Douglas. (Courtesy photo.)