DETROIT – As classmates and fans screamed his name from the Ford Field stands Friday night, Nolan Fugate put the focus on his teammates.
“I cannot thank my offensive line and my outside receivers enough,” the Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior running back said. “Without them none of this would be possible, and I just can’t thank them enough. They’re the best offensive line in the state.”
That line paved the way for Fugate, who gained 306 yards on the ground and tied an MHSAA Finals record with five total touchdowns as the Cougars defeated Edwardsburg 42-31 in the Division 4 championship game.
It was the second straight title for Catholic Central (14-0), and the program’s fourth overall. Coach Todd Kolster has led the Cougars to three of them (2010, 2016 and 2017).
“It has nothing to do with me,” Kolster said. “I’m the beneficiary of being the head coach for three of these, but it’s the kids that do all the work. They’re outstanding. This senior class, I love them so much. I’ve been so critical of them, and I say that all the time, because I came back here to Catholic Central with that class when they were freshmen and now they’re seniors. It’s really special to see these guys enjoy this, because they’ve earned every bit of it.”
This year’s title game was in stark contrast to last season’s when the Cougars eked out a 10-7 victory in a defensive struggle against Detroit Country Day. Big plays from both offenses highlighted Friday night’s game as Catholic Central had to battle to hold off a relentless Edwardsburg team down the stretch.
“They all mean the same,” Kolster said. “They all come in the right column, so we’ll take it.”
Seven of the game’s scoring plays were 20 yards or longer, including an MHSAA Finals record-tying 99-yard kick return touchdown by Edwardsburg’s Caden Goggins, and a MHSAA Finals record-tying 90-yard touchdown run by his teammate Nick Bradley.
On the night, the Eddies (12-2) averaged 9.7 yards per play and 10.8 yards per carry, while Catholic Central averaged 7.7 yards per play in managing to outgain Edwardsburg 448-369.
“Our defense, they played well -- we gave up a couple big plays, and Edwardsburg is a heck of a football team,” Kolster said. “We gave up three (big) kickoff returns and three big plays, but we handled them pretty well. That’s what they do, and that’s why they’re so good. That’s why they’re here, because they just keep at it, they keep at it and they’ll pop one, and they have confidence in that. But we have confidence in our guys.”
The Cougars’ defense did stiffen when it absolutely had to, as sophomore Ethan Lott came up with a tackle for loss on a 4th-and-1 play late in the fourth quarter to all but seal the game.
“Our guys did a great job on that 4th-and-1; it’s just a matter of reading their keys,” Kolster said. “I’m really proud of them.”
The game was absolutely put away when Fugate went 58 yards on a 3rd-and-10 in the final minute, barely getting tripped up at the Edwardsburg 10. It was another in a long line of huge plays for Fugate, who had touchdown runs of one, five, 54 and 32 yards, as well as a 20-yard touchdown reception from Jack Bowen.
Fugate also had 86 yards receiving and came down with a 38-yard catch along the sideline on a crucial 3rd-and-28 play midway through the fourth quarter with his team clinging to a 35-31 lead.
“The long third down, I saw (Bowen) leave the pocket and I was running my route and knew I had to get open,” Fugate said. “I just kind of boxed my guy out and said throw the ball, and I just did my best to make a play on the ball, and I was able to come down with it.”
The game put Fugate over 2,900 yards rushing for the season, and capped off a brilliant career that saw him set the school’s all-time career rushing record.
“Fugate is obviously a terrific runner,” Edwardsburg coach Kevin Bartz said. “I thought he ran as hard as I’ve ever seen him. We watched a good portion of film on him, and we knew he was fast, but I guess what I was more impressed with today is how hard he ran. He picked up lots of extra yards after contact. He’s an impressive athlete.”
Bartz was equally impressed with his team, which was playing in the title game for the first time and kept finding ways to hang around despite trailing by 16 midway through the third quarter.
On top of the record-tying touchdowns, the Eddies had scoring runs of 55 and 78 yards from Kyle Shrider, and 64 yards from Chase Sager. Shrider finished with 162 yards rushing, while Bradley had 96 and Sager had 73.
“Just to make it to this point, this was a team that was not expected to be here,” Bartz said. “With the number of kids we lost last year, we were kind of expected, I think, by most to be average at best. For them to come out here and perform against a top-level team like Grand Rapids CC, I’m extremely proud of these kids. They’ve now set the bar pretty high for everybody else at Edwardsburg.”
Bowen finished with 128 yards passing for the Cougars, while Erik Grabow had a 14-yard touchdown run.
The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central players raise the winner's trophy after Friday night’s Division 4 championship game. (Middle) Edwardsburg’s Kyle Shrider pulls away from a Cougars defender.
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)