Menominee’s Justin Brilinski blasts through a Grand Rapids West Catholic tackle during the Division 5 state championship game at Ford Field Saturday. Special to the EagleHeerald/Val Ihde
Menominee’s Justin Brilinski blasts through a Grand Rapids West Catholic tackle during the Division 5 state championship game at Ford Field Saturday. Special to the EagleHeerald/Val Ihde
DETROIT - Menominee fans rose up and gave a final cheer for their team but there were tears in the eyes of the Maroons as they walked off Ford Field Saturday night.

A Maroon team accustomed to a running clock ticking off another victory had to watch the clock slowly tick off the end of a perfect season in a 27-14 loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Division 5 state title game.

"We have no excuse," coach Joe Noha said. "Last week in the (Superior) Dome against (Muskegon) Oakridge we were almost flawless for a half, but we knew we were in for a battle today. The bottom line was they executed well. We knew what they were going to run, and they ran exactly what we prepared our kids to (stop). But they just made plays when they had to."

It marked the fourth straight year the Falcons have beaten the Maroons in the playoffs.

"It's become a power struggle," West Catholic coach Dan Rohn said. "We look forward to playing them. We don't like playing them, but we circle it when we get the opportunity. This was an opportunity to play them on the big stage."

Menominee was able to outscore turnovers in its four playoff wins, but two interceptions and a fumble played into the hands of a West Catholic team that gouged the Maroons for 257 rushing yards and burned the secondary for three touchdown passes.

The Falcons (10-4) became the first team this season to hold a lead over a Maroon team that was rolling up an average of 55 points in the playoffs.

The game was knotted at 7-7 late in the third quarter when West Catholic sprang a "Lou Lou" of a play.

Facing a fourth and 10 at the Menominee 30, the Falcons shuttled in four players before the snap as Travis Hoving dropped back for a 46-yard field goal attempt.

Tight end Bryce Witham looked like he was heading off the field but stopped near the sideline during the shuttling of players and the Maroons never picked him up. Hoving lobbed a pass as Witham raced uncovered down the field and snared the pass and made a solitary dash to the end zone.

Hoving's PAT gave West Catholic a 14-7 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

"The idea is to just blend in with the rest of the team standing on the sidelines. Luckily, no one noticed me," Witham said.

Rohn noted after the game that the bit of "trickaration" was named "Lou Lou" after his late mother.

"We've dropped (the ball) a few times in practice. We've overthrown it a few times. So everyone on the sidelines was holding their breaths," Rohn said.
Noha felt that Witham should have been in the Falcons' huddle before the snap.

"We questioned that, but they said it was a legal play. "There were out there, they made an exchange and (Witham) he was still out there."

The fake field goal charged up an already feisty band of West Catholic defenders, who forced a three and out on Menominee's next possession.

Two plays later, the Falcons pounced again through the air when Travis Russell fired a perfect 48-yard spiral over two defenders into the hands of Drake Wooten.

Russell, who was a thorn in the side of the Maroons all day, blasted through a gaping hole on a trap play, broke clear at the 10 and sprinted for a 25-yard scoring jaunt. Hoving's kick pushed the lead to 21-7 and put the Maroons into a two-score hole with 11:54 left in the game.

Menominee (13-1) drove down to the Falcons' 34 on its next possession before the wheels came off. After a procedure penalty shoved the Maroons into a fourth and 10, the snap sailed over the head of Devon Harris, who was tackled for a 16-yard loss.

West Catholic wasted no time following up the big defensive stand. On first down, Wooten got behind two defenders and stretched out and pulled in a 45-yard scoring strike from Russell.

Thirteen points in 21⁄2 minutes and the Falcons began smelling their second state title with a 27-7 lead and 9:35 remaining.

James Brown wasn't going to let the Maroons' dream die quietly, however. The senior fullback left Falcon feathers all over Ford Field as smashed over defenders for a 41-yard gain. West Catholic hacked the ball loose, but Devon Harris scooped up the ball and darted nine yards. A late-hit flag set the Maroons up at the 2 and Justin Brilinski slammed over on the next play.

Evan Pohlmann's 83rd PAT of the season cut the deficit to 27-14 with 8:49 left and the throng of Maroon fans began a comeback chant.

Menominee stopped West Catholic's next series at the Falcons' 48, breathing more life into the hopes of a historic comeback.

Brilinski had West Catholic on its heels with a 25-yard pass to Devon Harris. A roughing the passer penalty gave the Maroons a first down at the Falcons' 43, before the bottom dropped out of Menominee's bid for a fourth state crown.

After clawing out just a yard on two plays, Brilinski was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Brilinski hooked up with Harris for an 11-yard completion on fourth and 19, but it left the Maroons eight yards short of a first down and too short on time with just 3:23 remaining.

Russell chewed up the clock with runs of 13 and 22 yards as Menominee tried desperately to strip the ball away.

"We all played our hardest today, but we couldn't get what we wanted," said Brilinski. "I'm going to spend all summer in the weight room and remembering today, thinking about it all the time.

"We all need to be in the weight room, every last one of us. If we can do that, we're going to be tough to beat in 2014."

Grand Rapids held a Menominee team that was averaging 24 points in the first quarter scoreless in the first 12 minutes.

After the Falcons, deferred on the opening kick, the Maroons drove to midfield before Casey Norder picked off a pass after wrestling it away from the Menominee receiver.

West Catholic cut through the Maroon defense as the running of Andy Corey and Russell drove the ball to the 16. A holding flag, and incomplete pass and Ryne Francour's sack of Russell stalled the march and Hoving's 36-yard field goal was wide left.

Brilinski gunned a pass to Harris, who left a defender helpless with a hip shake to the right and a dash to the left for a 33-yard gain.

Facing a fourth and one at the 15, the Maroons opted to pass and Brilinski's pass was incomplete.

The Falcons' broke the scoreless deadlock with a 10-play, 85-yard march on the opening series of the second quarter. Russell picked up a first down on third and four at the Maroon 39 and lofted a 24-yard TD pass to a wide open David Bankuk. Hoving's PAT gave the Falcons a 7-0 led with 8 minutes left in the half.

West Catholic recovered a fumble after a 27-yard completion to Harris, but the Maroons turned the tables for plays later. Brown got a fierce rush on Russell and tipped his pass. Francour intercepted the floater at the 19 and returned it to the 34.

Harris got in space again for a 19-yard reception from Brilinski and Brilinski busted two tackles on a 16-yard blast to the 1. Brown left his imprint on the Ford Field end zone on the next play with the 28th TD of the season. Pohlmann's kick tied the game with 2:16 left in the half.

West Catholic 0 7 7 13 - 27
Menominee 0 7 0 7 - 14

Second Quarter

GRWC - David Banuk 24 pass from Travis Russell. Travis Hoving kick
MEN - James Brown 1 run. Evan Pohlmann kick

Third Quarter

GRWC - Bryce Witham 30 pass from Hoving. Hoving kick

Fourth Quarter

GRWC - Russell 25 run. Hoving kick
GRWC - Drake Wooten 45 pass from Russell. Kick failed
MEN - Justin Brilinski 1 run. Pohlmann kick

RUSHING: Menominee 43-189 (Brown 18-102 TD; Brilinski 19-71 TD; Devon Harris 3-10; Aeron Forsberg 2-1) West Catholic 46-247 (Russell 21-133 TD; Andy Corey 15-90; Lasavian Majewski 8-35; Nick Boosma 1-3; Collin Beaudoin 1-2)

PASSING: Menominee 11-22-158 (Brilinski 11-21-158 2 INTs; Harris 0-1) West Catholic 8-16-206 (Russell 7-15-176 2 TDs, INT; Hoving 1-1-30 TD)

RECEIVING: Menominee (Devon Harris 10-149; Brown 1-9) West Catholic (Wooten 3-97 TD; Bancuk 2-44 TD; Witham 1-30 TD; Mitchell Stanitzek 1-23l Brad Burns 1-12)

EagleHerald assistant sports editor

DETROIT - Menominee's Team 120 didn't win the gold trophy but the Maroons left their own mark that is as important as the state championship banners on the school walls.

Coach Joe Noha told a welcome home crowd Sunday night that the team represented the city with class and sportsmanship even as its state title dreams were slipping away.

If ever there was a time when lessons learned in practice would be forgotten it would be in the bitter disappointment of Saturday's loss.

But the Maroons carried themselves with pride and class the same way they did after 13 straight victories. That's a testament to the Maroon coaching staff and the Maroon parents.

"The officials were very complimentary about how our kids behaved," said Noha. "I've said before that we're not defined by the scoreboard and we aren't.

"We fell 14 points short, but there are lessons in tasting defeat. Just like in life, you have to get back to work and think of everything you've learned this year."

Menominee's junior tailback Justin Brilinski ended the season with a school record and senior kicker Evan Pohlmann ended his career just two PATS shy of a state record.

Brilinski broke coach Joe Noha's record of 95 completions in a season by completing of 11 of 21 passes to run his total to 101.

"Justin is the consummate football player," said Noha. "He's a testament to what a real student-athlete is at Menominee."

Pohlmann's two PATS gave him 83 for the season, second behind New Lothrop's Zack Taylor's mark of 85 set in 2011.

Pohlmann's 136 PATs in his two-year career is the best in the U.P. and ranks fifth in state history.

Two points more by Forest Hills Eastern and Grand Rapids West Catholic would not have been in the playoffs.

After a 1-4 start, the Falcons began their nine-game run to the state title with a 21-20 win over Forest Hills.

"The kids believed and the community believed in us," coach Dan Rohn said. "A lot of people were counting us out, but we didn't."

The Falcons are just the fourth team in history to win a state title after a 1-4 start.

The Maroons closed the season with a modern era school record of 647 points (46.2 average), shattering the 538 total of the 2006 state championship team.

The title game ended one of the most prolific three-player combinations in school history. Brilinski passed and rushed for more than 1,000 yards each, junior James Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards and senior Devon Harris finished with more than 1,000 yards in receiving and rushing.

Menominee rushed for 189 yards, 70 yards short of its season average, while the Falcons controlled the game with 257 rushing yards, 67 yards above their season average and 15 yards above their playoff average. Travis Russell completed 11 of 22 passes for 206 yards. Grand Rapids churned out an average of 7.5 yards per play.

Russell led the Falcons' ground game with 137 yards on 21 carries and Andy Corey had 90 yards on 15 carries.

Brown, who always finishes going forward no matter where he's hit, led Menominee with 102 yards on 18 carries and Brilinski rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries. He was 11 of 21 passing for 158 yards with two interceptions.

Harris had 10 catches for 149 yard to finish the season with 45 catches for 806 yards.

Brilinski and Brandon Chouinard each had 10 tackles, Francour and Harris had nine and Devon Barley had eight. Harris had six solo stops and a tackle for a loss and Francour had four solos, 11⁄2 tackles for a loss and an interception.

For the first time in four months, the Maroon players and coaches won't be heading out to the practice field after school today.

For a team that became a family during hours in the weight room and on the practice field, that's as hard to accept as losing Saturday's game.

"It's going to be pretty lonely," said Brown. "I feel like a piece of me is getting torn away."

The tradition continues. When the 1998 Maroons won the Class BBstate title, the 2006 and 2007 state title team players were in grade school. Today, there are Youth Football players and Menominee Hornets dreaming of walking in the footsteps of their 2013 Maroon heroes.