By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
FLINT — Most high school football coaches aren't comfortable having their quarterbacks, no matter how athletic they are, perform double duty by playing defense.
The risk of injury or excessive fatigue is simply too great.
Flint Powers Catholic's Bob Buckel is no different than the majority of his peers.
"I'll be honest, I don't feel comfortable having him on the field all the time," Buckel said of senior quarterback Noah Sargent.
And, yet, having Sargent play defensive back when he isn't running the offense is one of the reasons why Powers (11-2) will play Zeeland West (13-0) for the MHSAA Division 4 championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ford Field.
Sargent's team-high third interception of the season played a major role in Powers' 21-14 come-from-behind victory over Detroit Country Day in the Semifinals last Saturday in a snowstorm at West Bloomfield
He had already ignited a comeback from a 14-0 halftime deficit by tossing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Peyton Beauchamp. Sargent's one-handed interception later in the third quarter at the Country Day 20-yard line set up a 20-yard touchdown run by Reese Morgan.
Showing off one more aspect of his skill set, Sargent scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 26 seconds left in the game, putting Powers in the MHSAA championship game for the third time in school history. The 2005 team won the Division 4 championship, while the 2011 squad won the Division 5 title.
Putting an exclamation point on his performance, Sargent knocked down Country Day's final desperation pass as time expired.
"Noah understands we don't want him to get killed on defense," Buckel said. "We really try to put him on the best receiver and keep him out of harm's way. I heard someone earlier in the year say, 'When you get to the playoffs, you've got to save him.' I said, 'When you get to the playoffs, you have to play every play like it's your last play.' You throw him out there and hope for the best; the best happened last Saturday."
Sargent has 19 tackles, ranking ninth on the team. He is part of a defense that has allowed only 21 points in four playoff games and posted a school-record six shutouts.
"Coach really only plays me as a cover guy," Sargent said. "He doesn't like to throw me down (near the line). He uses me in coverage on third-and-long situations and passing downs."
As a quarterback, Sargent has displayed the kind of dual-threat capability that was integral to Powers' last MHSAA championship four years ago. Garrett Pougnet ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns in Powers' 56-26 rout of Lansing Catholic in the 2011 title game.
Sargent is Powers' leading rusher, in addition to its leading passer. He's run 134 times for 1,026 yards and 15 touchdowns, including an 83-yard scramble on third down for a touchdown in the playoff opener at Goodrich. He's 104 for 181 for 1,563 yards, 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Five of those touchdown passes came in a 41-0 victory over Goodrich, as he had a hand in all six touchdowns.
"We knew Sargent was the show," Goodrich coach Tom Alward said. "They've got good receivers, but Sargent's the one that makes them go."
Sargent is the son of Mike Sargent, an all-state linebacker at Powers in 1983 and a tight end on Michigan State's 1988 Rose Bowl championship team. Both of Sargent's parents went to Powers, and Noah attends his parents' alma mater with his sister, Nikole, who was the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 shot put champion as a junior last spring.
"He's a good leader," said senior tight end Nick Thompson, Powers' leading receiver with 27 catches for 448 yards and seven touchdowns. "He's humble. He's not selfish. He has the aspects of a good leader. You can see it on the field, obviously, and at practice. We trust him."
Sargent isn't the only Charger with a rich Powers pedigree.
Running back Reese Morgan and receiver Matt Wiskur had brothers on the 2011 championship team. Brooks Morgan was a starting receiver, while Ethan Wiskur was a starting defensive back who had an interception in the 2011 title game.
Watching in the stands as middle school students, the younger Morgan and Wiskur brothers had all the incentive they needed heading into high school.
"That's my main motivation," said Wiskur, who has 23 catches for 383 yards and five touchdowns. "They're the strongest team I've ever seen. They had great leaders. They were 5-4 going into the playoffs. They knew they were going to win states the whole time. They were confident in themselves, and they lived up to that."
A similarity between the 2011 and 2015 teams is their slow starts. Powers was on the brink of playoff elimination after six games, starting out 2-4 in Buckel's first season at the helm. This year's team lost its opener, 27-11, to a Flushing team that went 3-5 the rest of the way. The Chargers were 3-2 before winning their last eight games.
"I remember they didn't have a very good start, but they had a lot of heart and they made a big run in the playoffs and kind of shocked everyone," said Morgan, who has run 146 times for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 27 passes for 317 yards and two scores.
"The talent on that team was incredible. We have the same chance they did of winning."
When Powers steps foot onto the turf at Ford Field on Friday, the current team will play under the watchful eye of youngsters who hope to one day have the same experience.
"Any high schooler wants to leave a legacy when they leave," Sargent said. "Our whole team is trying to make a mark on Powers history."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Powers Catholic quarterback Noah Sargent drops back to pass against Midland Dow this season. (Middle) Sargent unloads a throw during the 35-30 loss, but has led the Chargers to an 11-2 record this fall. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)