After a hiatus of nearly two months, Saturday marked the official restart of the Michigan high school playoffs.
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Locally, the Division 5, Region 3 championship game Grosse Ile was the nearly two-hour journey to Lansing Catholic for a fight with the defending champions Cougars.
In the end, the Red Devils delivered a good fight, but Lansing Catholic turned out to be too much on Saturday. Grosse Iles’ impressive playoff run eventually ended with a 28-5 loss.
“(Lansing Catholic) was really physically up front,” Grosse Ile coach John Bodner said after the game. “We had a very hard time trying to match their physicality. In terms of size, we tried our best. We drove a lot with the ball, but it seemed like we would always shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The Cougars (8-2) scored twice in each half. They took their opening run off the field for a touchdown courtesy of a Will Gruber 21-yard scamper. The hosts added another with about five minutes to go in the second quarter, courtesy of a Rory Durr quarterback standing six feet out.
Durr replaced starter Joey Baker, who was injured in the first possession of the home team. Durr spent most of the first half for Catholic before making way for Alex Watters after half time.
Sandwiched between the two touchdowns for Catholic Lansing was a Grosse Ile (6-4) field goal from 30 yards from Joe Pizzo’s foot. Saturday marked the first time since September 2017 to keep the Devils at less than 10 points, a streak of 30 games.
The visitors certainly had their chances. Twice they had stopped discs in the Cougars area, one of which was in the red zone. There were also several lost weight passes along the way. Add to that some ill-timed punishments and it was quite a tough fight for the Devils.
“We have talked on Wednesday about having those ‘first game jitters’ and limiting mistakes, “Bodner said.” Just too many lost passes and turns and penalties, especially in the first half.
“It was just such a day,” Bodner continued. “But give them credit, their defense has definitely been strengthened. But I think if we make a few different plays here and there, it’s a slightly different outcome.”
After a scoreless third for both sides, Lansing Catholic batted in two more times in the fourth. The aforementioned Watters had a 33-meter touchdown run. Then the Cougars performed a fake punt with just over two minutes to go, a Watters-to-Brandon Lewis link good for 53 yards.
Lansing Catholic went for two runs on each of their four touchdowns, and converted on two of those attempts. Grosse Ile added a safety with 18 seconds remaining in the game to close the score.
On November 15, the Michigan High School Athletic Association was forced to do so suspend the football play-offs, just two days after Grosse Ile won his first district championship in eight years. The decision came after an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the state of Michigan.
It wasn’t until December 26 that the MHSAA drawn up a plan for football to resume their postseason here in January. All football teams were allowed to practice practice again on December 28 and participate in a new rapid testing program established by the MDHHS.
The setting on Saturday was not quite normal. The MHSAA earlier in the week allowed for a limited number of spectators for the remainder of the play-offs. Teams were allowed to submit a maximum of 125 tickets, which were distributed digitally.
After a rollercoaster ride of emotions dating back to August, the season of Grosse Iles has officially come to a close. While it doesn’t reach their ultimate goal, Bodner sees the season as a success, but he knows the work never stops preparing for the next season.
“Anytime you can get into the playoffs and win a district championship, that’s a big deal,” said Bodner. “The children fought hard, especially these seniors I am very proud of. This will probably be our most memorable year.
“But for now it’s back to the drawing board as we look to the future. Hopefully we’ll be here to talk to you again next year.”
As for Lansing Catholic, their title defense continues as they advance to next week’s Division 5 semi-finals. The Cougars will travel to Frankenmuth, which defeated Marine City on Saturday with a 31-7 final.
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River Rouge and Grosse Ile were still playing at the time of publication. All statistics are up to and including the first nine weeks of play.
At the time of publication, Grosse Ile and River Rouge were still playing and all statistics for the teams are for the first nine weeks of play.