DETROIT - Jackson Lumen Christi piled up 92 percent of its total yards Sunday morning on the ground.
So, trailing by three points with time running down in the fourth quarter and facing a 4th-and-4 situation on the Menominee 11-yard line, the Titans, of course, went to the air.
“It was a play we put in this week, and we (practiced) it over and over,” explained Lumen Christi junior quarterback Timmy Crowley. “Actually, it goes back to the summer and the connection that I developed with Gabe (King).”
Crowley delivered a strike to King on the sideline near the goal line, and King then spun into the end zone for the game-winning score with 4:04 remaining in an eventual 34-30 victory over upset-minded Menominee in a Division 7 title game shootout at Ford Field.
Menominee (11-3) had one final chance, driving into Lumen Christi territory, before senior quarterback Trevor Theuerkauf was hauled down from behind by freshman Lundon Hampton on fourth down to seal the win.
“It was an entertaining game, for sure,” said 44th-year Lumen Christi coach Herb Brogan, who was frustrated by some of his team’s blown coverages. “I like the way that we answered, time and time again.”
Lumen Christi (13-1) won its second consecutive Division 7 title, its fifth championship over the past eight years and 13th overall – 11th under Brogan – moving the program into a tie with Farmington Hills Harrison for the most football titles in MHSAA history.
It didn’t look good early for the Titans, as the Maroons used a 2-yard run by Landan Barkowski and a 34-yard pass from Theuerkauf to tight end Eli Beal to take a stunning 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Titans settled down in the second quarter and fought back behind the speed, power and tackle-breaking ability of junior running back Kadale Williams (6-foot-1, 180 pounds), who finished with 27 carries for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
“It starts with the guys up front,” explained Williams, who rarely went down without multiple Maroons clutching onto him. “Once they do their jobs and create a gap, I owe it to them to make a play every time.”
Williams broke loose on TD runs of 1 and 45 yards during the second quarter, making the score 14-14 at halftime.
That set the stage for a classic back-and-forth second half, with both teams refusing to lose.
Menominee, a perennial power for years behind its tightly-packed, single-wing offense, showed off its offensive evolution under second-year coach Chad Brandt, who has incorporated elements of the spread. The Maroons kept the Titans guessing with a balanced attack, passing for 199 yards and rushing for 143.
“We were able to run and throw to keep them off balance, which is what we have been doing all year,” said Brandt, who was head coach at Stephenson in the Upper Peninsula for 20 years before coming to Menominee as an assistant coach in 2018. “We saw the predictions, but our kids are resilient. We were able to display our skills and just came up one play short.”
Lumen Christi stuck almost exclusively to the ground, with 351 rushing yards and 29 passing yards, scoring in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Crowley and then early in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run by Williams.
Each time the Titans took the lead in the second half and appeared poised to take control, the Maroons struck back, first on a 21-yard scoring scramble by Theuerkauf and then a 76-yard pass from Theuerkauf to Isaiah Odom, which gave them a 30-27 lead in the fourth quarter.
Then came the game-winning drive, as the Titans went 61 yards in 10 plays, culminating with the game-winning, 11-yard pass from Crowley to King.
Menominee was surely keying on Williams by that point in the game, which set up the winning play-action pass.
“I think we wear people down up front,” said Brogan, who took over the Lumen Christi program in 1980 after the death of Jim Crowley, who guided the Titans to their first two titles in 1977 and 1979. “When you do that and create seams, Kadale is going to make plays.”
The Titans started four juniors up front in guards Andrew Salazar and Maverick Stergakos, center Drew Sweeney and tight end Charlie Saunders. The only senior starters on the offensive line were tackles Aiden Pastoriza and Luke Smith.
Both teams performed admirably on the big Ford Field stage, with just six total penalties and no turnovers.
Theuerkauf (5-11, 175) was all over the field during his final prep game, starting at his safety spot with a game-high 17 tackles (10 solos). He completed 9-of-22 passes for 199 yards and rushed 15 times for 84 yards.
Eli Beal made four catches for 63 yards and Tanner Theuerkauf, Trevor’s sophomore brother, had two catches for 42 yards. Blake Paasch made six tackles, and Beal and Tanner Theuerkauf each had five stops.
Both Crowley and Williams return next season for Lumen Christi, and their goal is to break the record for Finals wins.
“It’s so much fun handing the ball off to (Williams) and watching him run,” said Crowley, who finished 2-of-6 passing for 29 yards. “It means a lot with our tradition to win it, but I want to get back here next year and do it again.”
Isaac Rehberg carried seven times for 49 yards for Lumen Christi, while Josh Dumont and Ryan Walicki led the defense with eight tackles apiece.
PHOTOS (Top) Kadale Williams (1) pulls aways from a defender during Jackson Lumen Christi’s Division 7 win Sunday morning. (Middle) The Titans’ Gabe King leans into his fourth-quarter score. (Below) Lumen Christi raises its latest championship trophy at Ford Field. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)