By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Alex Grace knew there would be high expectations when he joined Saginaw Swan Valley’s varsity football team this fall as a sophomore.
But he also spent all last season – and most of his life – learning how to fulfill them from one of the Vikings’ best.
Grace watched proudly from the sideline last fall as his older brother Johnathan ran for 1,790 yards and 21 touchdowns. And then, taking Johnathan’s spot this fall, Alex tried to do the same in the same way.
Running with a similar physical style, Grace has helped the Vikings into their third MHSAA Semifinal in seven seasons; Swan Valley takes on Detroit Country Day in one of two Division 4 semis Saturday. He has rushed 256 times for 2,091 yards and 27 touchdowns. With 109 yards and three more touchdowns, he’ll make the MHSAA record book in both categories.
“I was expected to come in and be as good or better than him. I put it behind me,” Alex Grace said. “I just do the best I can, and see what happens.”
So far, this week's Second Half High 5 honoree been making school history and blowing those expectations away.
There are some definite similarities between the brothers. Swan Valley coach Ken Bourbina said Alex is simply carrying on the family tradition.
Like Jonathan, Alex is fast – he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. That’s a tick or two slower than his incredibly speedy brother, but Alex said his speed carries longer – he can beat Jonathan in a 200.
They certainly share similar styles. Jonathan liked to take defenders on, and Alex already is 6-foot and 185 pounds, with a penchant for running over instead of around.
“They both have the ability to turn it on, the ability to lower a shoulder. It’s a good mix,” Bourbina said. “There’s a few differences, but they have the same type (of style). His brother worked extremely hard for us, and (Alex) has just followed in his brother’s footsteps.”
And it’s no doubt helped to run in the footsteps of some of the same blockers. Like any respectful back, Grace is the first to thank his guys up front – tackles Tyler Branch and Anthony Martin, guards Mike Sielinski and Mitch Temple and center Brad Boehler, plus tight end Alex Dils. Branch, Sielinski and fullback Jaime Jimenez are all seniors who also blocked last season for Jonathan.
They’ve given Alex their endorsement. He said they too sense the similarities between the brothers.
“I try to run (tacklers) over. It makes me feel powerful,” Grace said. “I try to keep the runs straight ahead, get the most yards I can. I try to be just like him.”
Johnathan Grace, a redshirt freshman this fall at Michigan Tech, did his part as well to prepare his younger brother for the next level. He took Alex under his wing in the weight room over the summer and guided him through agility work, and that time together brought the brothers even closer.
Johnathan was listening to Swan Valley’s District Final game on the radio two weeks ago when Alex surpassed his yardage total from 2011.
“He was proud of me. He called me,” Alex Grace said. “He said congratulations … and he knew I could do it.”
PHOTO: Swan Valley sophomore Alex Grace (35) runs for some of his 127 yards against Freeland earlier this season. (Click to see more from the Regional Final at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)