By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
DETROIT — Armani Posey was supposed to be a two-week stopgap at quarterback for Detroit Martin Luther King.
In a moment that was “The Catch” and “The Drive” all rolled into one, Posey heaved a 40-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Donnie Corley on the final play of the game to give King a 40-38 victory over Lowell in the Division 2 title game Friday at Ford Field.
Lowell led 31-13 in the third quarter before Posey responded by throwing four of his record-tying five touchdown passes in the final 15:41 of the game. The final drive began with 37 seconds remaining at King's 3-yard line after a punt out of bounds and a penalty.
It was a scenario tailor-made for John Elway — or Armani Posey.
"What happened today is a memory forever," Posey said. "I dreamed about that and went out there and did it today. I couldn't imagine that type of performance, but we got the job done. Shout-out to the O-line."
When the starter was suspended for two weeks, King coach Dale Harvel was in search of a quarterback for the Week 4 game against Detroit Denby and the week 5 game against eventual Division 1 finalist Detroit Cass Tech. Harvel wanted a mature senior to, at the very least, manage an offense that is loaded with Division I college prospects. Posey turned into much more than a game manager.
"What we found out was he settled down everybody in the offense, because the first week we struggled a little bit against (Warren) DeLaSalle and struggled against East (English) Village," Harvel said. "We were able to win because we were playing good defense. He's been a settling effect on our offense and we couldn't go away from him, because we were in a rhythm with our offense. So, we stuck with him all year."
Posey's first position was quarterback, but that was way back in his elementary school days playing in the Detroit Police Athletic League for the East Side Tigers. One of his teammates back in the day happened to be the young man with whom his legacy will forever be linked.
"He played quarterback when I played for the Tigers," Corley said. "He's always been a good quarterback. I didn't know he was going to play this well. He had five touchdowns for 300 yards today? That's amazing."
After starting the game with three three-and-outs and his team falling behind 17-0, Posey finished 19 for 27 for 383 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He broke the MHSAA Finals record of 335 yards set by Olivet's Jay Cousineau in the 2010 Division 5 Final. He matched the record of five touchdown passes shared by Macomb Dakota's Mitch Lovett (2007, Division 1) and Cass Tech's Jayru Campbell (2011, Division 1). Posey also ran seven times for 20 yards and a touchdown.
It took a rare defensive stop by King to put Posey and Corley in a position to produce a moment that will be talked about for decades.
Lowell drove from its own 35 to King's 39 before its only negative play of the game, a 2-yard loss on a run by quarterback Ryan Stevens, forced only the second punt of the game for the Red Arrows. Stevens nailed the punt out of bounds at the 5 with 37 seconds left. An illegal procedure penalty on King before the first snap moved it back inside the 3.
"They battled, right down to where we punted the ball down to the 5 with (37) seconds on the clock," Lowell coach Noel Dean said. "I thought that would be a pretty good spot to be in. Credit them — they made the plays at the end."
King made several plays on its way to the end zone.
A 22-yard pass to Lavert Hill, a 10-yard pass to Corley and a 25-yard pass to Dontre Boyd got the ball to the Lowell 40 with 10 seconds left. Boyd had to watch the final play from the sidelines, having injured his shoulder after his catch on a tackle by Alex Anschutz. Boyd had 126 yards on five catches.
"He could've easily dropped the football," Harvel said. "He focused on that football and knew he was going to get hit — a good legal hit. He caught the football and made the play for a first down for us and made the opportunity to throw that pass to Donnie. All of his teammates understand what he sacrificed for his football team out there today."
"To me, that was the biggest play of the game," said Corley, who was about to make the most memorable play of the 2015 season.
King had two shots at the end zone in the final 10 seconds. On the first play, Posey overthrew Ambry Thomas down the left side. Two seconds remained on the clock for a play that would make one team's dreams come true and crush another's.
As King lined up for the final play, Corley was in single coverage on the left side. This was an inviting prospect for the Crusaders, considering Corley is being recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Corley said the Lowell cornerback called for safety help over the top, but that the safety didn't hear in the instructions.
"When we didn't see the safety move over, I was repeating, 'Throw it to Donnie, throw it to Donnie,'" Harvel said. "Nobody could hear me, but it was comforting to me to say that, even though nobody could hear me."
As Corley ran toward the left side of the end zone, Posey had time to heave the ball to his star receiver. Corley, who has a 37-inch vertical leap, won a jump ball against the corner who appeared to get a hand on the ball, then fell to the ground safely inbounds.
"It was a beautiful ball," said Corley, who caught six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. "It couldn't have been any better. He threw it just inbounds and in the back of the end zone. I knew where I was on the field. I couldn't believe it — I'm not gonna lie. We fought back from 17-0 and we won."
It's only the second time that the winning score in an MHSAA championship game took place on the final play. Steve Mann caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Johnson to give Detroit Country Day an 18-14 victory over Muskegon Catholic Central in the 1986 Class C title game.
For most of the afternoon, this wasn't a championship game that appeared to be destined for a dramatic finish.
Max Dean's third touchdown run of the game, a 4-yarder with 8:24 left in the third quarter, gave Lowell a 31-13 lead. The Red Arrows had leads of 17-0 and 24-7 in the first half.
A 25-yard touchdown pass from Posey to Corley with 3:41 left in the third quarter and a 41-yard pass from Posey to Thomas got King back in the game, down only 31-26 with 11:44 remaining.
Lowell responded with a 10-play, 73-yard drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown run by Stevens with 7:10 remaining.
Aided by a personal foul for facemasking, King crept to within 38-34 on a 2-yard pass from Posey to Hill and a 2-point pass from Posey to Martell Pettaway with 4:42 to go.
Lowell got two first downs on its next possession, forcing the Crusaders to use their remaining timeouts. They were able to manage the clock well on the final drive, particularly when Hill gave up the opportunity for a few more yards to get out of bounds with 28 seconds left on the first play. The clock stopped temporarily when Corley's 10-yard catch got a first down. Boyd was on the field for a couple of minutes after being injured making his 25-yard catch, allowing King to discuss its options and be ready at the line when the clock started running as play resumed.
Corley's catch gave King its second MHSAA championship, matching the achievement of the 2007 team. It was King's fourth victory of three points or fewer in a 14-0 season.
Lowell scored on its first four possessions before taking a knee to end the first half during its fifth, leading 17-0 before King even registered a first down.
After getting first-and-goal at the King 5, Lowell settled for a 21-yard field goal by George Gonzales to open the scoring with 4:52 left in the first quarter.
A 36-yard pass to senior Gabe Steed was the key play on a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Dean with 11:03 left in the second quarter.
A 62-yard pass to a wide-open David Kruse on Lowell's third drive set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Stevens with 7:02 left in the first half. At this point, Lowell had a 173-9 advantage in total offense and a 17-0 lead.
It appeared King would suffer its fourth straight three-and-out to start the game when an intentional grounding penalty left the Crusaders facing third-and-20 from their own 25. That's when King's explosive offense finally showed life, as Boyd had a 73-yard catch and run down to the Lowell 2. Two plays later, Posey scored on a 3-yard bootleg to the right, cutting Lowell's lead to 17-7 with 4:21 left in the first half.
Lowell responded immediately, using a 66-yard pass to Sawyer Olesko to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Dean with 1:53 to go in the first half, making it a 24-7 game.
King tightened the margin before the break, as Hill made an acrobatic 41-yard catch at the Lowell 12, then grabbed a 12-yard touchdown pass from Posey on the next play to cut Lowell's lead to 24-13 with 25 seconds left in the half. The extra point attempt failed.
Lowell (12-2) used some trickery to build its lead to 31-13, with Nathan Stephens taking a short direct snap on a fourth-and-one punt and running 38 yards to the King 5. Two plays later, Dean scored his third touchdown from four yards out with 8:24 left in the third quarter.
Dean finished with 99 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 22 carries. Stevens was 6 for 9 for 186 yards, running 22 times for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Martin Luther King’s Donnie Corley pulls down a touchdown pass on the final play of the game to give the Crusaders the lead and win. (Middle) King players celebrate their second MHSAA championship.
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)