By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half
MARQUETTE – A year ago, the Pickford football team was left heartbroken at the Superior Dome as it fell in the 8-player Division 1 championship game.
On Saturday, the Panthers exited the stadium in jubilation as they finished the job this time, downing Portland St. Patrick 48-15 in the Division 2 Final.
Pickford used its large offensive line and talented rushing game to take over in the second quarter. From then on, the Panthers never looked back as they outgained the Shamrocks 285-18 on the ground and 437-143 in total yards on the way to their first title in the sport.
“Our staple for the whole year has been our offensive line, and we knew if we stuck with it and do what we did best, we’d force them to do what they didn’t want to do,” Pickford head coach Josh Rader said. “We controlled the line of scrimmage, I think, on both sides of the ball. And when you’re able to do that, you’re going to win the majority of the games.
“We came up short last year and after that game, you get that empty feeling in your stomach. A lot of them were juniors, and we only had two seniors on the team last year. So they had a goal to get back here to be able to play in this game and win it. So we had some unfinished business, and we found a way to come back here and finish it.”
Pickford quarterback Jimmy Storey agreed with his coach, saying that a championship was on the team’s mind from the start of the season, but took a lot of work.
“It’s all those extra reps,” he said. “Coming out the first day of practice, we set our goals and said we want a state championship this year. We’ve been working toward that in every practice, every game and every play. We just came out wanting it.”
While Pickford (12-1) looked sharp from start to finish on Dome’s turf, the stadium continues to be an unlucky place for the Shamrocks as two years ago they were run over by Crystal Falls Forest Park. This time against the Panthers, the Shamrocks were hit hard early and struggled to get anything going offensively after the first quarter.
“We had some trouble just slowing them down,” St. Patrick head coach Patrick Russman said. “They are great up front, and we knew that. We needed a couple big plays here or there to keep us going along with it. We had a couple chances in there in the passing game. Some we made, and some we didn’t. We just needed a few more points on the board to make it interesting. I credit the kids, and I credit their kids. Credit our kids for fighting all the way through. Two really good football teams on the field today.
“Statistically, if you looked at it, we probably shouldn’t be here. Our kids are such great football players that it’s fun to watch them play week-in and week-out. Just the time and heart they put into it and how they treat other people, those are the great things we get out of this group.”
The first quarter started off pretty even. After forcing a St. Patrick punt, Pickford scored on its opening possession. A couple of first-down runs by Storey got the ball up to the Shamrocks’ 31-yard line before Matt Bush busted up the middle for a touchdown. Storey ran in the 2-point conversion, and the Panthers led 8-0.
St. Patrick (12-1) answered. A long kickoff return from John Schneider brought the ball to the Pickford 7, and a couple of plays later Ned Smith plunged into the end zone on a one-yard run. The Shamrocks got the conversion on a pass from Connor Cross to Tyler Coyne, and the game was tied at 8-8 going into the second quarter.
From that point on, it was almost all Panthers. On the ensuing possession, Pickford quickly marched downfield. On 4th down on the St. Patrick 25, Nick Edington made a nice overhead catch in the end zone. Stephen Lamothe got the conversion for the Panthers to give them a 16-8 lead.
After almost picking off a Shamrocks pass, the Panthers scored again on their next offensive chance, first using their running game to get into St. Patrick territory. Storey capped off the drive with his first rushing touchdown, a two-yard run, and he then hooked up with Micah Bailey for the conversion. Pickford now held a 24-8 advantage with 5:09 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers added one more touchdown before the half, another two-yard run from Storey, and picked up the conversion. St. Patrick had a chance to go into the break with a little momentum as a 39-yard pass from Cross to Schneider took the team to the Pickford 21. But the Shamrocks couldn’t capitalize.
Things got worse for St. Patrick during the second half. Pickford used a combination of running and passing to get the ball to the Shamrocks’ 3, and Storey got his third touchdown run of the game. The Panthers got the conversion on a pass to Luke Batho and led 40-8 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Pickford locked down the win with 5:20 left when Storey found Batho down the Shamrocks’ sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. The conversion put Pickford up 48-8.
St. Patrick did get on the board one more time as Cross hit Coyne over the middle with a 76-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds remaining.
PHOTOS: (Top) Pickford celebrates its first football championship Saturday at the Superior Dome. (Middle) The Panthers’ Matt Bush (32) breaks into the open while Portland St. Patrick defenders chase. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.
PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)