By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
DETROIT — When Jarrett Mathison was told he wouldn't be Marine City's quarterback this season, he could've taken the news the wrong way.
He could've been selfish about losing the marquee position on the football team. He could've sulked, becoming a disruptive force on the team. He could've complained to his parents, who in turn could've made life miserable for coach Ron Glodich and his staff.
Instead, Mathison handled the change with a team-first attitude, even though he had no clue what his role would be with the Mariners.
"There wasn't really a decision until about a week before our first game," Mathison said. "They told me I was going to play fullback. I said, 'OK. I don't care. I'm playing. I've got to do what I've got to do to help the team out.'"
As it turned out, Mathison got even more action this season than he did a year ago when he was the sophomore quarterback for an 8-2 team.
He starred in all three phases of the game, leading Marine City to a 49-35 victory over defending-champion Grand Rapids South Christian in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game Friday at Ford Field.
Mathison intercepted two passes, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 91 yards for a touchdown, and ran 18 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
"We had to tell him he could be a benefit on both sides of the ball," Glodich said. "That gamble paid off tonight. He's a warrior. He was better at the end of the game than the beginning of the game."
Mathison never expected to have such an active role in Marine City's success after the quarterback position was turned over to junior Alex Merchant, who was 10 for 12 for 208 yards and three touchdowns against South Christian.
"I thought I was just going to be a person filling in," said Mathison, who scored 32 touchdowns this season. "It just came out for the better. Everything happens for a reason."
Senior Pete Patsalis caught all three touchdown passes for the Mariners, grabbing five passes for 142 yards. Marine City scored on seven straight full possessions, not including a one-play series in which it ran out the clock following a South Christian touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half.
The score was tied 21-21 at halftime when Mathison gave Marine City a huge lift to start the second half. A series of fake handoffs on a kick return that fooled nobody the first time the Mariners tried it worked wonders this time around. Mathison received the kick, turned his back toward the Sailors and faked the ball to three teammates before taking off and getting in the clear.
"The big kickoff return took the wind out of us a bit," South Christian coach Mark Tamminga said. "That was a huge momentum swing there. Give all the credit to them. That's a heck of a football team. We got beat by a better football team."
Still, South Christian was in the game when quarterback Jon Wassink scored from one yard out on fourth-and-goal to tie the game 28-28 with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
The Sailors couldn't stop the Mariners' offense, however. A 65-yard touchdown pass from Merchant to Patsalis with 5:11 left in the third quarter put Marine City ahead to stay. A 1-yard run by Mathison made it a 14-point game.
South Christian got within 42-35 with plenty of time left when Wassink hit Eric VanVoorst with a 19-yard touchdown pass with 10:04 remaining, but Marine City ground out a 12-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 6:15 to get some breathing room. A 20-yard pass from Merchant to Patsalis capped the drive with 3:45 left.
"We told the kids, 'You stay with them until the fourth quarter, then I guarantee you you'll have more in your tank than they do,'" Glodich said.
History was made in this game, as Marine City junior Olivia Viney became the first girl to play in an MHSAA Final. Viney did more than just play, going 7 for 7 on extra points to tie a Finals record for most extra points in a game. Paul Gross of Jackson Lumen Christi also was 7 for 7 in the 2001 Division 5 Final against Livonia Clarenceville.
"I really wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," Viney said. "My team did a really good job of keeping everyone calm, keeping their heads on their shoulders. I was totally prepared mentally and physically."
Viney finished the season 61 for 65 on extra points, breaking the Marine City mark of 59 extra points in a season. She also had a 30-yard field goal.
"I couldn't do it without my team," she said. "I couldn't score an extra point unless we get touchdowns. Our snapper, our holder, our offensive line — I couldn't do it without them."
The tone for the high-scoring game was set just 58 seconds in, as Wassink hit VanVoorst with a 52-yard touchdown pass to give South Christian a 7-0 lead.
That was the only score of the first quarter, but the pace picked up in the second quarter, with the teams combining for five touchdowns to go into halftime tied at 21-21.
Mathison's 1-yard run put Marine City on the board with 10:28 left in the second quarter.
A 39-yard pass from Merchant to Patsalis with 7:12 left in the second quarter gave the Mariners a 14-7 lead.
Wassink's 50-yard option keeper with 5:36 left in the second quarter tied it 14-14. Tait Sapienza answered for Marine City with an 18-yard touchdown run with 2:05 to go in the half.
South Christian tied it 12 seconds before halftime when Wassink threw a low 8-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Haan, who was able to trap the ball between his legs as he fell across the goal line.
Wassink, a junior two-year starter who missed last year's championship game after breaking his collarbone in the Semifinal, was 18-for-38 for 240 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Sapienza ran 17 times for 123 yards and a touchdown for Marine City (13-1), which won its other MHSAA title in 2007.
"They were more physical than us," Tamminga said. "When you control both sides of the line of scrimmage, you're going to win a lot of football games."
PHOTOS: (Top) Marine City's Joe Mazure (88) hauls in a pass during Friday's Final. (Middle) Grand Rapids South Christian quarterback Jon Wassink breaks away for a gain. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.)
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.)