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What A Team...What A Season

Posted by Atif Lodhi on Nov 28 2006 at 04:00PM PST
The article here is by Terry Foster of the Detroit News. To see the actual article, click on the title above. ************************************************************************************ A GAME OF INCHES DeLaSalle's dream gets crushed in final seconds DETROIT -- You can measure why Warren DeLaSalle didn't slay the final giant in inches. You can measure it by seconds. You can measure it by one player's 40-yard dash time being just that much quicker than another's. Often following Lions games at Ford Field, coach Rod Marinelli holds two fingers an inch apart and says that is how close the Lions are to winning. The Pilots actually would be telling the truth. After 109 plays, 811 yards of total offense, eight penalties, 17 first downs and a half-dozen moments of do-or-die, this game came down to one move and one fumble in the final minute. Pilots wide receiver Don Fowler appeared on his way to the winning touchdown as the clock struck midnight. But Muskegon defensive back Ronald Johnson came out of nowhere to catch him, and the ball popped out as Fowler strained to gain extra yardage. That play was the difference in Muskegon's 32-30 victory over DeLaSalle (11-3) in a Friday thriller during the Division 2 final that nearly turned into a shocker. Muskegon (14-0) came in with the big credentials. The Pilots are getting back on the football map after years of mediocrity. It was a young man with a big name outdueling a young man with a big heart. On this one play, talent beat grit. This game resembled "Rocky" -- the underdog Pilots kept scrapping and sticking and moving. They were giant pests the Big Reds could not shake. For four quarters they slugged it out, matching big hits like a grand slam event at Flushing Meadows. When quarterback Chris Crawford gave Muskegon a 19-16 lead on an 83-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, DeLaSalle's Jimmy Berezik answered with an 89-yard kickoff return. This is the way it went before an exhausted crowd. DeLaSalle stayed with Muskegon despite Crawford (232 yards rushing, two touchdowns) putting on one of the great running performances in high school playoff history. He also passed for 137 yards and a touchdown. We saw Berezik gain 255 all-purpose yards and DeLaSalle quarterback Brian Lewis pass for 210 yards and a touchdown. Play of the game On an afternoon of superlatives, mixed with five turnovers, there came a defining moment that will be talked about from Macomb County to Lake Michigan. DeLaSalle sliced a 32-23 deficit to 32-30 when Berezik leaped 3 yards for a touchdown with 5:19 remaining. He looked like one of those old prop planes lifting off from City Airport, across the street from where the old DeLaSalle used to stand. After Muskegon went three-and-out, DeLaSalle got the ball and drove to the Muskegon 36 when Lewis spotted Fowler on a crossing pattern. When Fowler caught the ball, Johnson left his man and ran as if his life depended on it. Now, it was not the easiest run for Johnson. This is a guy suffering from a sports hernia, tender groin and a sore shoulder. "I did not think I was going to catch him," Johnson admitted. But he caught Fowler at the 1 and the ball popped into the end zone, where Muskegon's Bobby Miller pounced on the ball to finally secure victory with 0:58 remaining. One more step, one more breath and DeLaSalle wins. If you saw the play you might ask, "Why didn't Fowler simply go down? Why did he strain when it was not necessary?" You wouldn't ask that question if you watched the way the Pilots operated during their improbable run to the final. Doing the little things is what got them here. They were underdogs against Orchard Lake St. Mary's and Detroit Catholic Central, but clawed their way to victory. They were underdogs to Birmingham Brother Rice three times this season, but finally found a way to win the third time around. Fighting until the end Fowler did not go down without a fight. That is not the DeLaSalle way. DeLaSalle is a team that sold out on every play because it's the only way the Pilots know how to play. If they did not, players would have been Christmas shopping rather than hunting for a state title. "I would have done the same thing," Berezik said. "It is the big show and you want to make a big-time play." As Fowler walked off the field, coaches and players consoled him. Some wouldn't talk to him, opting instead to give him his space. But ultimately it will be the words of coach Paul Verska that matter most. "I am going to tell him I still love him and the team still loves him," Verska said. "And all of DeLaSalle is proud of him." They should be. Fowler has made big plays all season. In his final football game as a Pilot, he caught five passes for 134 yards. And if an All-American were not breathing down his neck, Fowler would have sealed the deal. "If I talked to him, I would tell him he had a heck of a season," safety Shane Torzy said. "He's been making plays for us all season. You cannot blame him. I felt he played a big part in what happened to us this season and I am privileged to have played with him." DeLaSalle wins respect If there is any consolation, Muskegon was honored to play DeLaSalle. Muskegon has more state titles and victories than any other program in the state. Muskegon has the most rabid fan base and plays in a 100-year-old stadium. Division I coaches make routine stops at the outpost in Western Michigan with the biggest prize being Johnson, who is deciding among Southern California, Michigan and Notre Dame. It is no coincidence all three have an outside shot at a national title. That is how big time he is. It would be easy to say Muskegon simply had an off day. But the Big Reds refused to walk away without showering their opponent with praise. It was close for a reason. "They are a great team," Johnson said of DeLaSalle. "They studied a lot on us and they just came out to play." It was so close, Muskegon coach Tony Annese even thought his team was fortunate to win. Verska tried to put things in perspective. "You can't have everything you want in life," Verska said. "But there will be other things in life. They will be great dads and great brothers and great uncles. That is more important. I measure success by how they will be when they get their own family." You do not measure these successes in inches. You do in a football game. You can reach Terry Foster at Terry.Foster@detnews.com ************************************************************************************ A Season Wrap Up will be done after the Special Football Banquet on December 10th, 2006.

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