DETROIT – Joey Silveri and his Grand Rapids Catholic Central teammates wanted to prove Friday they had the talent to match up with Detroit Country Day.
It turns out, the Cougars had the talent to overwhelm the top-ranked football team in Division 4 as they cruised to a 44-0 victory in the Division 4 Final at Ford Field.
“Every week we get people telling us, ‘You guys are a good team, but we don’t really know how,’” the Catholic Central sophomore quarterback said. “’You guys don’t really have that good of players.’ To come out here against a great team like Country Day and prove everybody wrong is amazing.”
The win gave Catholic Central its fifth title and third in four years. In 2016 the Cougars also defeated Country Day. That one ended 10-7 – but this time, the result wasn’t in doubt by early in the second half.
“I can’t say that I saw 44-0 coming,” said Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster, who now has four titles to his credit. “I felt really good about our team. I felt really good about what we were doing. I felt really good about the character of the guys on our team. So, I felt like we could go out and get this.”
Silveri was the driving force, as he ran or threw for six total touchdowns, raising his season combined total to 54. He was 15-of-22 passing for 236 yards and rushed 18 times for 143 yards. The Cougars didn’t run a play that didn’t feature a Silveri run or throw until three plays into the third quarter. He either ran or threw on 39 of the Cougars’ first 40 plays.
“He’s a special kid – he's a special young man,” Kolster said. “I’m just really happy for him. I’m happy for our seniors. Joey has come in, and he’s adapted so well to our upperclassmen. They have so much respect for him because he’s such a hard worker. He’s a great character guy. He showed tonight why he is such a good player.”
Silveri was involved in three touchdowns in the first quarter, throwing a pair to Jace Williams (15 and 14 yards) and running for a 53-yard score. The 18 points were six more than Country Day had allowed in a game all season, as the Yellowjackets had cruised into the Finals at 13-0 and allowing 5.2 points per game.
“We saw a lot of one-on-one matchups and a lot of pressure coming,” Silveri said. “So, we knew if we got the ball out quick and gave our receivers a chance one-on-one, they would make plays.”
Williams certainly proved that point, as he tied a Finals record with three touchdown catches. He finished the night with four catches for 62 yards, adding a 23-yard touchdown reception to his two in the first quarter.
Each of his first two scores came on fade routes in which he won a fight for the ball with the defensive back.
“I feel like it set a tone for our offense and defense,” Williams said. “And our special teams were doing a good job today, too.”
Silveri also had a 23-yard touchdown pass to Drew Gommesen to give his team a 24-0 halftime lead, and his second touchdown run came from one yard out midway through the third quarter.
Not long after that run, the Cougars’ defense got in on the scoring, as Jake Passinault intercepted an attempted double pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. That put the game in running clock, as the lead extended to 38-0.
The runback capped off an impressive day for the Catholic Central defense, which held the Yellowjackets to 18 yards rushing and 60 yards of total offense on 37 plays (1.6 per play). Country Day entered the game averaging 34.7 points per game and more than six yards per play.
“I just think you always have to be able to move the ball effectively, which we have been throughout the year,” Country Day coach Dan MacLean said. “We just didn’t. We just didn’t tonight. Credit to them, and it’s a disappointing finish for us. We’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Nolan Zeigler led the Catholic Central defense with 10 total tackles, while Brady Redmer had seven, including three for loss. Dan Southerington added an interception that set up the second Catholic Central score.
Country Day’s defense was led by Danny MacLean who had eight tackles, including one for loss. The Yellowjackets did have one bright spot on special teams, as they blocked all five of the Cougars’ extra point attempts.
“I’m proud of my guys as always,” MacLean said. “But it’s obvious we have work to do. We have work to do to get better. I think we will. We have a good group of kids. It was a good year. Disappointing finish, obviously. They had some good matchups tonight and they exploited them, so credit to them. But we’ll come back. We’ll come back. Country Day will come back.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Joey Silveri breaks away against Detroit Country Day on Saturday. (Middle) Jace Williams pulls in one of his three touchdown catches during the Division 4 Final while Country Day’s Luke Ammori attempts to dislodge the ball.
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.)