The Division 5 football state final paired one of the best offenses in the state against perhaps the stingiest defense.
And while it’s often said that defense wins championships, it was not the case in this game Saturday at Ford Field.
Defending champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central defeated Frankenmuth, 48-21, for the Cougars’ fourth state championship in the last five years. The other three titles came in Division 4.
GRCC entered the game averaging more than 38 points a game, while Frankenmuth held 11 opponents to a total of 75 points and allowed just 302 rushing yards the entire season.
No wonder they went to the air early.
On the opening play of the game, quarterback Joey Silveri tossed a 30-yard pass down the middle to running back Nick Hollern (192 yards rushing) to put the Cougars at midfield and on its way to a 28-7 halftime advantage. GRCC (11-0) scored three touchdowns on its first four drives on pass receptions by Notre Dame-bound Nolan Ziegler (12 and 35 yards) and Miami (Ohio)-bound Jace Williams (13 yards).
“Obviously I think our guys really came out impressive,” said GRCC coach Todd Kolster. “Minus a couple of things offensively we played really well, and defensively we played really well.
“We felt we could take advantage of some match ups with our guys … we wanted to come out aggressive and attack. … I think the difference was our aggressive mindset. We knew how good their defense was. Just 1.1 yards per rush, 27 yards rushing a game. They are just a heck of a team but we thought we also had some good match ups we could take advantage of.”
The scoring string was interrupted by Frankenmuth’s 4-yard TD rush by Daniel Barger after a GRCC fumble at the 38, but Silveri ran the ball into the end zone from 2 yards out late in the second quarter. Despite going to the pass early, GRCC finished game with 172 yards passing and 296 rushing.
By the end of GRCC’s first drive of the second half, the route was on. Hollern ran 50 yards on the Cougars’ second play, down to the Eagles’ 1-yard line before Silveri (who accounted for six TDs total) rushed it in on the next play for a quick 35-7 edge.
While the Cougars have dominated their division in recent years, Frankenmuth (11-1) has reached the semifinals seven times in the last 30-plus years, but this was the Eagles’ first trip to Ford Field.
Third quarter Frankenmuth touchdowns came on a 7-yard run by QB Davin Reif and a 4-yard rush by Konnor Roche, which was set up on a 71-yard run by Cole Lindow, but Frankenmuth got no closer.
The Frankenmuth program’s first ever trip to Ford Field was less exciting than the team hoped, with COVID-19 protocols restricting the number of fans allowed into the stadium — and the lopsided loss — but coach Phil Martin was no less proud of the Eagles nor the community than any coach could be.
“Today, leaving town was amazing,” he said. “Our community rallying around us, and it was a sendoff like no other. I’d say it was close to 14 miles long of people lined up … the community was outstanding. They stepped up and supported us all year… It was awesome for our team, our community and our school.”
Both Martin and Kloster seemed to take a deep breathe after the game when discussing the widely-strange season of start-stop-start-stop and start again three weeks ago.
“This year has been really really long and these guys have really earned a few days off,” Kloster said, after Martin discussed the pride he had for every player that came through the stadium over two days of eight football games.
“All of the football kids that came here this weekend had 167 days of active football participation,” Martin summarized. “And I commend every athlete that’s here.”