Annual Catholic League championship games come down to grit, determination for three winning schools

“Just some Catholic boys fighting it out.”

That was an elated Mike Pruchnicki’s assessment moments after his Clarkston Everest Collegiate Mountaineers escaped with the C-D Division championship in a frenzied dogfight with the Pioneers of Riverview Gabriel Richard that seemed to be occurring on every inch of carpet, from end zone to end zone, from sideline to sideline, at Ford Field.

The game was in the middle of a three-game set at the Prep Bowl XLVI, which opened with Detroit Loyola against Dearborn Divine Child and closed with Novi Detroit Catholic Central versus Warren De La Salle.

The Everest-Richard outcome wasn’t decided until there were 32 ticks left on the game clock. For all intents and purposes, Divine Child sealed its deal with Loyola in the first half, while De La Salle put away Catholic Central in the third quarter.

Loyola Bulldogs running back D'Vaun Bentley evades a tackler during a rush play against Dearborn Divine Child in the Prep Bowl championship game Oct. 20. Despite Loyola's recent success on the gridiron, the Bulldogs fell to the Falcons, 29-6.

Prep Bowl Championship: Divine Child 29, Loyola 6

On the game’s second play, Loyola’s D’Vaun Bentley roared around left end for a 67-yard touchdown. Was this an omen of things to come? Four weeks earlier, the Bulldogs beat up Divine Child 28-16.

Hardly. The Falcons scored all of their points in the second quarter. 

Quarterback Cameron Urbanick started it off with a 17-yard dash around left end. They added two points on a safety when a Loyola runner was tackled in his own end zone.

Urbanick and fullback Tim Waters collaborated on a 57-yard pass play, Tyler Whiteside ran seven yards, and, here’s a switch, Urbanick was on the receiving end of a 20-yard pass from Joshua DePaulis.

Bulldogs coach John Callahan, AA Division Coach of the Year, had guided Loyola from 2009 to 2016 to a 72-8 record, four Division 7 finals, a state championship in 2014, and six CHSL championships.

In 2017, he left to coach New Haven, but he eagerly found his way back to Loyola when a vacancy occurred. “I’m back where I belong,” he said. The Bulldogs head into state tournament action with a 6-3 record. Can they rebound in time?

Falcons coach John Filiatraut said he was “most proud of the grit” the team showed as the season wound down, winning the last three games for an overall 4-5 record.

Gabriel Richard Pioneers quarterback Colby Daiek prepares to snap the ball in the red zone against Everest. The Mountaineers pulled out the close victory, 36-35, for the C-D Division championship.

C-D Division Championship: Everest 36, Gabriel Richard 35

Rodrigo DiNigris kicked the extra point to give Everest a 36-35 lead with 4:40 to play. Richard began what it hoped would be a game-winning drive to the end zone 62 yards away. Hard-charging fullback Nathan Palumbo bulldozed 28 yards, then 12 more, often carrying two, three, four defenders trying to bring him down.

The Pioneers found themselves six yards away from the end zone and, most likely, a hard-fought victory with 52 seconds to play.

On fourth down, the Pioneers attempted a field goal, just an 11-yard chip. The ball was snapped, placed down, Avery Reyna swung his right leg forward and – blocked! Linebacker Jimmy Neme sliced through the Pioneer defense to block the three points that would have put Richard in the lead.

But Everest couldn’t celebrate yet. Amidst confusion over how many timeouts Richard had left, the Mountaineers moved the ball to the 14-yard line. On fourth and two yards with only 32 seconds to play, a punt would have given Richard the ball back and another chance for victory.

It wasn’t to be, however. One of the Pioneer linemen moved into the neutral zone, causing a 5-yard penalty, enough to give Everest a first down and retain possession.

Here’s the scoring summary:

First quarter, 7:30, Richard: DeShaun Elam, 2-yard run. Reyna kicked extra point. Richard leads 7-0.

First quarter, 7:15, Everest: Josh Legg around right end for 67 yards, TD. DiNigris extra point. Tied 7-7.

First quarter, 4:30, Richard: Michael Holdsclaw intercepts pass; two plays later, scores from 4 yards, TD. Reyna PAT. Richard 14-7.

First quarter, 1:57, Everest: QB Giovanni Mastromatteo pass to Neme, 69 yards. TD. Pass play for two extra points. Everest leads, 15-14.

Second quarter, 11:34, Richard: Holdsclaw 8 yard run. TD. Attempt pass for PAT incomplete. Richard leads 20-15.

Second quarter, 7:53, Everest: Legg recovers fumble, returns it 22 yards for TD. DiNigris extra point. Everest regains lead 22-20.

Second quarter, 3:10, Everest: Another fumble recovery sets up 19-yard run by Legg. TD. DiNigris kick. Everest leads 29-20.

Second quarter, 0:26, Richard: Nevin Hughes 4-yard run. Reyna kick. Everest leads at half 29-27.

Third quarter, 4:30, Richard: Palumbo 4 yards. TD. Run attempt for 2 extra points failed. Richard regains lead 33-29.

Fourth quarter, 10:42, Richard: Legg tackled in end zone for safety. Richard leads 35-29.

Fourth quarter, 4:40, Everest: Legg 5-yard end-around run. TD. DiNigris kick good. Everest leads 36-35.

Final thoughts from Richard coach Tom Michalsen: “It wasn’t our day. Our errors were self-inflicted.”

From Pruchnicki: “This was a tough game, but we have a great group of guys. It was typical Catholic League football.”

Everest (8-1) and Richard (5-4) both qualify for state tournament.

Defensive linemen for Novi Detroit Catholic Central (blue) battle it out against Warren De La Salle's stout offensive line in the Prep Bowl A-B Division championship. The Pilots of De La Salle prevailed, 24-6, against their Shamrock rivals. 

A-B Division Championship: De La Salle 24, Catholic Central 6

De La Salle quarterback Nolan Schultz sneaked over from 1 yard out late in the first quarter to put the Pilots up 7-0, an advantage they held until the halftime intermission.

Brett Stabley returned the second half kickoff 50 yards to CC’s 45. Ten plays later, halfback Evan Vaillancourt scooted 22 yards though left tackle for a touchdown. Daniel Heppler converted the extra point.

Heppler kicked a 37-yard field goal to bump the Pilots’ lead to 17-0. CC had the ball for only four minutes in the third quarter.

Some 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, Schultz scrambled his way 70 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-0.

Shamrocks quarterback Marco Genrich, from his own 7-yard line, suddenly caught fire, throwing six completions in a row, then added a seventh pass of six yards to Nate Anderson for a kind of consolation-prize touchdown.

It was De La Salle’s second CHSL championship in a row, also coming at the expense of the Shamrocks. The Pilots (7-2) will be defending their state Division 2 title in the upcoming state tournament. CC is 6-3.

Gabriel Richard wins 'Champions of Charity' award

Besides the football winners, there was another title awarded at Ford Field: Riverview Gabriel Richard is the Catholic League’s “Champion of Charity” for the fourth year in a row. 

The students collected 8,000 pounds of clothing for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which sponsors the annual contest, which challenges students across the league to collect the most donations for charity. 

Accepting the trophy from Fr. Stephen Pullis, archdiocesan Director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools, was Gabriel Richard athletic director Kris Daiek; seniors Annie Payette, Clair Hesson and Kathleen Roberts; and principal Joe Whalen, who says students have collected nearly 40,000 pounds of clothing over the last four years.