By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
DETROIT — It certainly wasn't nerves.
Tommy Scott had already played in an MHSAA championship game, winning the Division 8 title with Muskegon Catholic Central last season. Scott, like the Crusaders' other veterans, said he was more at ease this season, knowing what to expect on the big stage at Ford Field.
So, why was Scott throwing up as he came off the field in the second quarter of the Crusaders' 31-6 victory over Munising?
"Thanksgiving food," he said.
Something he ate Thursday didn't agree with him for the early game the following morning, but it was Munising feeling queasy once Scott started feeling better.
"I felt sick in the first half," he said. "I wouldn't let that stop me in my last game in the state championship. I wasn't coming out. After I vomited, I felt way better."
Coach Steve Czerwon quickly added, "After he saw his dad screaming at him to get back in, I think he felt better, too."
Scott said he felt fine early in the game, well enough to bust off a momentum-altering 99-yard kickoff return just 13 seconds after Munising had taken a 6-0 lead. But he started to feel sick shortly after that, finally finding relief when he threw up.
Held to 14 yards on seven carries in the first half, Scott finished with 21 carries for 92 yards and three second-half touchdowns on the ground in addition to the record-breaking kick return. The previous record was a 97-yard return by Zeeland West's Brad Mesbergen in the 2011 Division 4 final.
"We knew coming in, we had to stop Scott and their quarterback," Munising senior Andy Cooper said. "We knew their quarterback was a little bit injured. He toughed it out today and played a heck of a game. Tommy, we saw he got sick a little bit on the sidelines. He came back in and was running the ball on us; he was tough."
Crusaders quarterback Nick Holt has been playing at less-than-optimal health the second half of the season after spraining his ankle, an injury he aggravated in the semifinals. Holt finished with 13 carries for 61 yards and was 2 for 6 passing for 41 yards.
"You know it's going to be your last game," Holt said. "You're never going to be able to put on your pads again or your helmet again. Just to have a group of guys around me that are there for me saying, 'You're going to be all right, you're going to be all right.' I couldn't have gotten through without them."
The Crusaders trailed for the first time all season when Cooper made a leaping catch in double coverage at the 50-yard line and sprinted to the end zone on third-and-seven to complete a 74-yard scoring pass from Austin Kelto with 10:14 left in the first quarter. Cooper's extra point was blocked.
It turned out that MCC would trail for only 13 seconds all season, as Scott turned on the jets and out-sprinted the last player back, Cooper, who won four events in last season's MHSAA Division 3 Upper Peninsula track and field meet.
"It was huge to get the momentum right back after they took the momentum in the first three plays," Scott said. "Making a big play like that can change a game."
Munising also allowed a 99-yard kick return by Beal City's Chase Rollin in a 10-7 semifinal victory after scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
"We were all excited after that touchdown," Cooper said. "Everyone was: the fans, the sidelines, the coaches. Then it seemed like deja vu, because it happened last week, the exact same thing. We score and they returned the next kickoff on us. We got through it and still kept our heads in the game."
The Mustangs were still in the hunt by halftime, trailing only 10-6. Seymour booted a 25-yard field goal with 2:37 left in the first half to cap an 18-play, 64-yard drive that consumed 9:16 off the clock.
MCC had a chance to extend its lead before halftime, but Blake Sanford had the ball punched out by Cooper at the 7-yard line after making a 29-yard catch. Kelto recovered the fumble, but a roughing-the-passer penalty gave the Crusaders new life at the 21. On the next play, Ben Stasewich tipped a pass by Holt, and Ian McInnis intercepted it with 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
In the second half, the Crusaders controlled the game with their ground attack.
They scored on their first three possessions of the half, with Scott scoring on runs of 1, 30 and 9 yards.
"We got a little bit tired in the second half," Munising coach Jeff Seaberg said. "Just not as many subs to put in. They started to grind on us and impose their running game on us a little bit. We weren't able to stop them. Once it got out of hand, it's a little bit too much to get back into it against them. They're a heck of a football team. We have a heck of a football team. They were just a little bit too much for us today."
Any conversation about the greatest high school football programs in Michigan must now include Muskegon Catholic Central.
With their 10th MHSAA title, the Crusaders joined five other elite programs who have reached double digits. Farmington Hills Harrison leads the way with 13, followed by now-closed Detroit St. Martin dePorres (12), East Grand Rapids and Mendon (11 each), and Detroit Catholic Central (10).
The only other time the Crusaders repeated was in 1991.
"To be able to say we won back-to-back, we're never going to be forgotten," Holt said. "Everyone is going to remember the 2013-14 team. Not only is it back-to-back, but we had such a big class. We had 18 starters last year, and this year it's just about everyone. This class is always going to be remembered. It's an honor and a blessing."
The Crusaders held Munising to 39 yards on 30 carries. Jaeden MacPherson had two sacks for minus-19 yards.
Muskegon Catholic Central ran for 198 yards on 48 carries.
PHOTOS: (Top) A group of Muskegon Catholic Central defenders surround and take down Munising's Izaak Mahoski. (Middle) Munising's Austin Kelto (2) and David Harris (32) work to wrap up MCC's Tommy Scott. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
MUSTANGS LIGHT IT UP FIRST - On the third play of the Division 8 title game, Austin Kelto hits Andy Cooper, and Cooper converts into a 74-yard touchdown for Munising.
LONGEST KICK RETURN EVER IN A FINAL - On the kickoff following the Munising score, Muskegon Catholic Central's Tommy Scott goes coast-to-coast - 99 yards - for the longest kickoff return in an MHSAA Football Final. Scott ended up scoring four times and rushing for 96 yards.
Watch the game in its entirety and order DVDs by Clicking Here.
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.)