By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Herb Brogan’s teams over 39 years coaching Jackson Lumen Christi have succeeded in part by regularly capitalizing on opportunities.
Give the Titans an inch … and in Friday’s case, they’ll take 28 straight points.
Halftime came just in time for Lumen Christi as all momentum had been lost during the Division 6 Final at Ford Field. But when Montague couldn’t keep the swing going into the second half, the Titans took the opportunity and made school history.
Lumen Christi rode a defensive stop and four straight touchdowns to a 42-28 win over the Wildcats – clinching the program’s 11th MHSAA football championship and third straight, a program first.
“The whole year, and really since freshman year, we’ve been talking about it,” Titans senior Nick Thomas said of the three-peat opportunity. “We had two good grades above us. We said we’re going to do it with those two grades, and we’re going to become the first team to make history.
“That just became a major motivator, during those early morning grinds, getting there an hour early instead of a half-hour early. You’re already sweating before anybody else gets there. We were working before anybody else gets up, and that was a big emphasis the whole season – and it paid off 10 times over.”
Lumen Christi last season became the program’s third repeat champion, and Friday’s win was the Titans’ 23rd straight – they finished 13-0 this season, with an open date Week 9.
Brogan improved his career record to 356-83 since taking over the program in 1980. He sits fifth all-time for state football coaching wins, and this season pulled within five of fourth place and longtime Waterford Our Lady coach Mike Boyd’s 361.
Although senior Bryce Stark gave Montague the game’s first lead with a 57-yard scoring run midway through the first quarter Friday, Lumen Christi tied it up with a 57-yarder by Thomas two minutes into the second. Senior Cy’Aire Johnson scored on a 40-yard pass from senior Joe Barrett a little more than two minutes later, and after senior Bobby Willis’ interception on Montague’s next possession, it seemed like the Titans might break away.
But not yet. Three plays after throwing the interception, Montague sophomore Drew Collins recovered a fumble, and Stark ran for his second touchdown to tie the score with 1:17 to go in the first half.
Lumen hustled to get to Montague’s 28-yard-line during the next minute – but Wildcats senior Sebastian Archer snagged an interception.
The score stood tied at halftime. And Montague (11-3) was set to get the ball first in the third quarter.
“It was a question mark: who was going to wear who down? They wore St. Francis down last weekend (in the Semifinal), and if you talked to those guys, they were tired,” Brogan said. “One of the things we talked about at halftime, it just comes down to playing with pain. You’re going to be uncomfortable for the next 24 minutes, but what are the results going to be if you can put up with that level of discomfort, push yourself and make plays and make some memories.”
The first possession of the third quarter didn’t include a score, but it should be memorable as the start of Lumen’s final surge.
Montague took the opening kickoff, and over three plays went backward one yard. Lumen scored on its next four possessions, twice getting the ball back on turnovers and a third time after a turnover on downs when the Wildcats had driven to the Titans’ 24.
“We ran out of gas today. They’re folding guys in all the time, and we just don’t have those guys,” said Montague coach Pat Collins. “Our guys worked hard. I’m proud of our guys. That’s who we are. We have nine guys going both ways … they’ve got a whole bunch of guys playing football, and that’s tough.
“If it was a video game, and your guys don’t get tired, that would be a closer game and maybe the ‘Cats would be on top. But it wasn’t; this is real life. … I love my guys. They’re great players. They just got tired.”
The Titans used 22 players to Montague’s 18, and Collins said the difference was most noticeable up front as the game wore on.
Lumen Christi ran for 216 of its 348 rushing yards during the second half.
“Our running backs always push us to try to be better and better every day,” Lumen junior lineman Keegan Smith said. “After every play, they’re saying ‘one more, one more.’ And ‘we’ve got 24 minutes (left)’ at halftime. They pushed us and we told each other, let’s do it for the brotherhood of the line and just try to make history.”
Thomas finished with 249 yards on 28 carries and scored twice. Barrett threw two touchdown passes – senior Dayton Keller caught the second, and Johnson and senior Brock Fitzpatrick also ran for scores. Thomas had a team-high 10 tackles.
The Wildcats cut the deficit to 14 late with two touchdown passes from Collins to junior Brennan Schwarz. Stark ran for 156 yards and three scores on 19 carries. Junior Mark Vanderleest had 12 tackles and Schwarz nine for Montague, which was playing in its first MHSAA Final since winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
The Wildcats’ only defeats this fall were to Lumen Christi, Division 5 finalist Portland and Division 5 District champ Reed City. Montague is 39-8 over the last four seasons and 22-4 over the last two.
“Since my freshman year, the seniors set the bar pretty high,” Archer said. “Sophomore year, the seniors did their part. Junior year, I love each and every one of those seniors and they’re great guys.
“This year I felt like we raised the bar.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Jackson Lumen Christi’s Nick Thomas (10) breaks past a defender during Friday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (Middle) Thomas, Delton Langley (35) and Bobby Willis celebrate the Titans’ championship.
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)