QB Leads Falcons to Record-Tying Title

November 25, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Yes, Grand Rapids West Catholic was well aware of Saturday’s history-making opportunity at Ford Field.

And yes, becoming only the third program to win five straight MHSAA football championships has been an honor, but also a heavy expectation to uphold.

But this fall it rested on an experienced Falcons group that shined again Saturday at Ford Field, riding the experience of what’s become an annual trip to Detroit.

West Catholic’s 34-7 win over Saginaw Swan Valley gave it five consecutive Division 5 titles, tying the program with Farmington Hills Harrison 1997-2001 and East Grand Rapids 2006-10 for the longest Finals winning streaks in MHSAA football history.

“I think one of the hardest things is coming in and working hard every day throughout the whole offseason, throughout the season itself,” said West Catholic senior Gaetano Vallone, who quarterbacked these last three champions. “Not a lot of programs can do that.

“With our guys, everyone’s there in the morning from freshman to varsity level, so that really helps us. We have a lot of dedication.”

And the Falcons have had Vallone – a major difference maker again Saturday.

He completed 10 of 14 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 17 times for 60 yards and a score. That put his season totals at 2,677 yards and 31 passing TDs and 927 and 15 on the ground.

Over three MHSAA Finals, Vallone averaged 197 yards and two touchdowns passing and 86 yards and a score running the ball as the Falcons previously beat River Rouge 40-34 in 2015 and Menominee 43-7 a year ago with him running the show.

West Catholic coach Joe Hyland called Vallone the best competitor he’s coached. And Swan Valley coach Kevin Gavenda noted how Vallone has played more high school games in three years – including more than a season’s worth in the playoffs – than most to acquire such valuable experience. That’s paid off in playmaking ability but also in perspective, which pays off in potentially stressful situations like the Semifinal where the Falcons trailed Frankenmuth 21-0 before coming back to win 25-21.

“My sophomore year I was just kinda going with the flow, trying to do my best, trying to put the team in a position with my abilities,” Vallone said. “Now as a senior, I’ve gotten a lot better, more knowledgeable of the game. Sometimes I call (Coach) off, because I see something, and he allows me to do that because he trusts me.”

Vallone was not alone, of course, among Falcons who were contributing to a second or third championship Saturday. And that experience seemed to come through in West Catholic’s workmanlike approach.

The Falcons scored on their first three possessions and six of their first seven, putting up all 34 points by the 5-minute mark of the third quarter. Swan Valley’s lone score came on the last play of that period. 

West Catholic outgained Swan Valley only 296-265. But the Falcons had only one penalty and intercepted three passes, plus took back the ball on three turnovers on downs (not counting a fourth on the final play of the game).

Vallone found seven receivers, with junior Jack Schichtel and senior Zack Lee catching scoring passes. Junior defensive back Mitchell Doyle had 10 tackles and an interception. Senior defensive back Connor Bolthouse had nine tackles, and senior defensive back Zaavon Scott had the other two interceptions and ran one back 28 yards for a touchdown.

“Experience, as I’ve said quite a bit, has been a huge advantage for us throughout the course of my time here,” said Hyland, who finished his second season as coach and third at the school after previously coaching in South Carolina. “Especially when it comes to playoff time. These guys have been in very difficult situations and fought their way out. They have not in any way panicked despite some unfortunate plays on our part and really good plays by the teams we have competed against.”

West Catholic finished 12-2, its losses by three Week 1 to eventual Division 6 repeat champion Jackson Lumen Christi and by two Week 8 to eventual Division 4 repeat champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

Before the Frankenmuth scare, West Catholic also edged Portland 28-26 on the road to earn a Regional title. Frankenmuth, Swan Valley and Portland had the three highest playoff-point averages in Division 5 during the regular season.

The Vikings (12-2) were making their first appearance in an MHSAA football championship game, and Saturday’s loss was their first since Week 1.

“It was a big step for the program, even getting here, going from last year with the disappointing loss to our rivals (Freeland) in the playoffs first round,” Swan Valley senior running back Emmett Boehler said. “To come to Ford Field the next year is a big step.

“I know this program is going in the right direction. And I know Coach is leading us in the right direction, so I know these guys next year Alex (Fries) and Brock (Leinberger), we’ll be back here again.”

Leinberger ran 10 times for 67 yards and the touchdown, and Boehler added 61 yards on the ground to finish with more than 1,600 this season.

Leinberger also had a team-high 12 tackles.

He and Fries, the quarterback, were among a talented group of juniors who could have the Vikings back in the hunt next season as West Catholic also goes for a record-breaking sixth straight title.

“When you have five extra games, that’s big for all of the kids that we brought up,” Gavenda said. “We’re starting six juniors on offense, six juniors on defense, and a lot of these guys are going to be three-year starters next year.

“I don’t think this program is going anywhere any time soon, but you’re never guaranteed anything. We know the grind it took to get here this year, but we’re excited, absolutely.”

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids West Catholic coach Joe Hyland raises the champion’s trophy with his players Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Falcons’ Zaavon Scott wraps up Swan Valley’s Terryon Liddell.

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.