Rice Sends Out 'Coach' on Winning Note

November 29, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — What do you get the football coach who has everything? 

How about a perfect 14-0 season?

Better yet, how about a third straight MHSAA championship as a nice going-away present? 

Al Fracassa had accomplished just about everything during his legendary 45-year career at Birmingham Brother Rice, but his final three teams embraced the school's tradition and elevated it to an even higher level.

Brother Rice won its ninth MHSAA title — all under Fracassa — with a 38-21 victory in a rematch against Muskegon in the Division 2 championship game on Friday at Ford Field. 

Before this current run, Brother Rice hadn't won back-to-back MHSAA championships. The school record for victories was set by the 2000 team, which went 13-1. The school's last undefeated team was in 1983. The Warriors' 23-game winning streak is one short of the school record set from 1976-78.

"I wish I was young enough to coach some more," said Fracassa, 81. "When you love something so much, it's very difficult to leave. I'm going to still love football; it's done a lot for me." 

Fracassa finished his career with a 430-117-7 record, ranking first in Michigan history and sixth nationally in victories. That included eight seasons at Royal Oak Shrine before he was hired as Rice's head coach in 1969.

"I'm glad I made it," Fracassa said. "Now I can rest easy. I'll probably be very sad for awhile, and hopefully I'll be strong enough mentally to handle this." 

Friday's game was such a special occasion that even his wife, Phyllis, was in the stands.

"My wife never comes to games," Fracassa said. "She used to come, but she'd be so nervous that she'd beat everybody up next to her. Today, she came with my daughter, who flew in from Omaha. It was nice for her to see us play and have a great victory. I can't wait to see her." 

Whoever takes over at Brother Rice has an excellent chance of extending the Warriors' championship and winning streaks.

Brother Rice will return junior quarterback Alex Malzone, who has been outstanding in two MHSAA Finals appearances. Malzone completed his first nine passes against Muskegon, finishing 20 for 24 for 263 yards and four touchdowns. In two title games, he is 28 for 34 for 430 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Malzone was in a rotation last year with Cheyne Lacanaria.

Malzone also ran 17 yards as the holder on a fake field goal attempt with 4:33 left in the game. 

"For him to go out with what we've done is an overall great feeling," Malzone said. "It's going to be different without him on the field every practice. He's the best coach I've ever had. I'm going to miss him a lot."

Corey Lacanaria caught 10 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Grant Perry had five catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. 

The teams picked up where they left off in their wild finish in 2012, when a 91-yard kickoff return by Jason Alessi off a lateral gave Brother Rice a 35-28 victory.

Last year, they combined for 42 points during the final 13 minutes and 58 seconds after staging a defensive battle most of the way. On Friday, they scored on the first four possessions of the game, creating a 14-14 deadlock with 1:09 left in the first quarter. Going back to last year, that added up to 70 combined points in only 24:49 of playing time. 

Malzone started out 9 for 9 for 125 yards and two touchdowns, hitting Damaris Woods with a 16-yard touchdown pass on the first series of the game and Perry on a one-handed 34-yard grab with 4:24 left in the first quarter.

Muskegon responded to each of those scores with touchdown runs by quarterback Deshaun Thrower, whose 6-yard run capped the Big Reds' first drive and whose 16-yarder tied the game at 14-14 on the next possession. 

Perry's second touchdown catch, an 18-yard play with 1:07 left in the first half, gave Brother Rice a 21-14 halftime lead.

The key to the game was that Brother Rice shut down Muskegon's ground game after halftime. Thrower ran 12 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, leading a rushing attack that piled up 216 yards on 21 carries. In the second half, Thrower was held to minus-18 yards on 10 carries. As a team, the Big Reds had minus-9 yards on 13 carries in the second half. 

Muskegon didn't have the ball beyond its 36-yard line in the second half until 3:30 left in the game when Thrower hit Justin Foster with an 86-yard touchdown pass. But by then Brother Rice had extended its lead to 38-14 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Malzone to Lacanaria and Malzone's 17-yard touchdown run on the fake field goal.

"They changed defenses in the second half," Thrower said. "A couple of missed opportunities set us back. We couldn't get in a rhythm again." 

Muskegon has five MHSAA titles, but has been denied a sixth by Brother Rice two years in a row. The Big Reds last won the championship in 2008.

"I'm going to go back and evaluate what we're doing wrong in the championship game," Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. "It's my responsibility and my duty to put these kids in the right position and give them a better chance to win a state championship. It must be something I'm doing. These kids played a heck of a game. They fought through a lot. They're tough as nails. They played 28 games for our fans the last two years. There's going to be a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, the last two years we fell on the other end of it." 

While Fairfield works on bringing a title back to the state's all-time winningest program, Fracassa will be a spectator while Brother Rice goes for a fourth consecutive MHSAA title in 2014.

"It's hit me the whole season when I'd go home every night," Fracassa said. "I couldn't believe it's going to be my last year. I try not to think about it. Football kept me busy, but it's here. It's time for someone else to take over. I'd like to mention my coaching staff. ... They did an outstanding job coaching my boys. I hate to take all the credit. They coached and did most of the coaching. I did most of the yelling."

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa celebrates one more MHSAA championship with his team Friday. (Middle) Warriors quarterback Alex Malzone tries to break away from Muskegon's Terry Copeland (5) and Jordan Waire (7). (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)