A “mountaineer" is defined as one who climbs mountains, and it’s an apt nickname for Clarkston-based Everest Collegiate High School.
The band of 15 gutsy, stouthearted youths who comprise the football roster at Everest have scaled heights never before achieved in the school’s brief four-year history on the gridiron.
After qualifying for the fourth consecutive year in the MHSAA playoffs – the first school in the state to do so every year since the team’s inception: 2013-14-15-16 – Everest rallied from two touchdowns behind to beat their neighborly nemesis, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, to advance to the Division 8 Region 3 district championship.
At this level, the air begins to get a bit thinner, only three wins away from Ford Field to play for a state title on Thanksgiving weekend.
Pretty heady stuff for 15 kids, probably the smallest squad in the playoffs. The coaching staff numbers more than the subs.
Last Saturday on a gorgeous autumn afternoon, Everest and Royal Oak Shrine fought pretty much on even terms in the first half. The Mountaineers consumed three minutes on a 67-yard drive to take a 17-14 lead with just a minute left before halftime.
Then, what every mountaineer dreads – a rockslide.
Shrine senior Jay Hester returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to Everest’s 37-yard line to set up a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Asher Smith to Michael Niehaus, using up a mere 20 seconds to take back the lead, 21-17.
Then, some 41 seconds into the start of the third quarter, Hester broke through right tackle for a 68-yard romp to the end zone to lengthen Shrine’s lead to 28-17, and eventually cruise to a 49-25 victory.
In a dizzying flash of 61 seconds, the Mountaineers went from hopefully ahead to desperately behind. The despondency on the Everest side of the field was palpable.
Coach Mike Pruchnicki was understandably subdued. “My guys showed a lot of heart. But we’ve gone one step higher. We have some more mountains to climb."This was Shrines’ third district title (the others in 2006 and 2008) out of 16 playoff appearances. The Knights (9-2) will attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (9-2) this weekend (Nov. 11-12).
The win adds more glitter to coach John Goddard’s remarkable record at Shrine (158-82, only four losing seasons). He’s in his 25th season there, and adding a combined 23 years earlier at Hamtramck Immaculate Conception and Redford St. Agatha supports his claim that he is the longest-serving head coach in the CHSL.
Goddard, 71, revealed he had a pacemaker implanted seven weeks ago. “I have to make sure I don’t stand near a microwave." He added: “I’ll keep on coaching. The kids keep me young."Shrine is one of five CHSL teams that are still playing football in the state playoffs out of 10 that started three weeks ago. The others have all experienced the ecstasy that comes from reaching the top of the mountain. All will face formidable opponents.
Novi Detroit Catholic Central (11-0) – state champs 10 times, 2013 most recent – will host Grandville (10-1). The Bulldogs have outscored opponents, 467-49.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (7-4), two-time defending Division 3 champ, will face De
Witt (10-1), which will have extra motivation seeking to avenge three previous playoff losses to the Eaglets.
Detroit Loyola (9-2), the 2014 Division 7 champion, will travel to Hudson (10-1). The Tigers won Division 7 in 2010. (Trivia: Hudson holds the record for most consecutive wins in Michigan, 72, between 1968 and 1975).
Dearborn Divine Child (9-2), whose state titles date back to 1975 and 1985, will take on Allen Park (11-0). The Jaguars and Falcons have met three times, all in state playoffs; Allen Park won two. For dates and kickoff times, consult local press or mhsaa.
com. may be reached at dhorkey@wowway.