DETROIT – in the Division 2 state football finals on Friday afternoon.
In front of a lively crowd at Ford Field in Detroit, Church helped carry his team to a 24-14 victory over Lowell. The senior running back ran for 244 yards on 33 carries and all three of the Warriors' touchdowns.
“He’s been doing that this year and for the last three years,” longtime head coach Al Fracassa said.
It was Church’s electrifying 54-yard run at the end of the second quarter that put Brother Rice on track to bring home the school’s seventh state championship.
With the game tied 7-7, Lowell had to punt the ball in the final minutes of the half after a quick three-and-out.
Church didn’t waste any time breaking the tie on the first play of the Warriors' drive with a burst to the outside. He ran the ball down the Red Arrows’ sideline past Lowell middle linebacker Jake Stehley to the end zone.
“It was a fake reverse,” Church said. “As soon I held the ball out, I saw the one defender (in front of me) broke for the fake, and I pulled it back in and just saw open field.”
Fracassa was quick to add his own take on the play after the game.
“I’m a genius,” Fracassa said, smiling. “I called that.”
Brother Rice went up 14-7 and then extended its lead on the first possession of the second half.
The Warriors started the third quarter with a 68-yard drive down to the Lowell 16-yard line. Jason Alessi hit a 26-yard field goal to make it 17-7 with 7:24 to go in the quarter.
Dominant defense leads in second half
From there, Brother Rice’s defense put its stamp on the game. Mark Bouchard intercepted Lowell quarterback Gabe Dean on its first drive of the second half.
Sergio Perkovic hit Dean as he threw the ball and Bouchard picked the ball off at the Red Arrows’ 37-yard line. Perkovic would finish the game with two of the Warriors’ six sacks.
“Guys like Sergio and Kevin Henry have been getting to the quarterback all year,” linebacker Jon Reschke said. “I’m sure Sergio’s had like 10 sacks this year; he did a great job.”
Lowell’s first three possessions of the second half went: interception, punt, interception.
Dean, last year’s Division 1 and 2 player of the year, had only thrown four interceptions all season, but Dean threw three picks on Friday.
“Overall, we did good,” Brother Rice defensive back James Hendrix said. “We thought they were more of a running team, we knew if we shut down the run they would have to air it out a little bit.”
In the first half, the Warriors limited Lowell to 50 yards on the ground. The Red Arrows had to abandon their veer offense — an option run offense — and move Dean into the shotgun.
“We took away his (Dean’s) running game, their veer offense,” Reschke said. “That was a big thing for us, that put them in something they didn’t want to do, that put them in passing situation and our defensive backs do a great job.”
Brother Rice capitalized after Dean’s final interception with a two-play scoring drive. Church ran it in from 15-yards out to put the Warriors ahead 24-7 with only 5:55 to go in the game.
Fracassa, who saw his team give up three touchdowns in the second half to King in the semifinals, said he wasn’t comfortable until the final whistle blew.
“(Big comebacks) have happened to me before,” Fracassa said.
Dean would add a touchdown on a 9-yard pass to Luke Bigham with 3:39 to go in the game, but Brother Rice and Church didn't give the Red Arrows the ball back until there was seven seconds left on the clock.
The win gave Brother Rice its first title since a 14-7 win over Hudsonville in 2005.
And it was also a little bit of revenge for the Warriors. Back in 2002, Fracassa's team lost to the Red Arrows 31-14 in the finals. Lowell also eliminated Brother Rice from the Division 2 playoffs in the 2009 semifinals 35-14.
“This is everybody’s dream,” Church said. “It really is a blessing.”