Strong start propels West Catholic to 4th straight state championship

Grand Rapids West Catholic wins the Division 5 state championship at Ford Field on Nov. 26, 2016.

DETROIT (WOOD) — The past two state title games for the West Catholic football team weren’t decided until the final minutes.

This one had a different feel, and the outcome was rarely in question after a torrid start.

The Falcons jumped out to an early double-digit lead and were never threatened en route to an impressive 43-7 victory over Menominee Saturday in the MHSAA Division 5 state final at Ford Field.

West Catholic became the sixth team in MHSAA history to win four consecutive state titles.

Muskegon Catholic Central accomplished the same feat Friday with a 35-6 win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford.

West Catholic (12-2) sprinted out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter behind three Menominee turonvers and held a comfortable 29-0 advantage at halftime.

“I’m very proud of the way our kids came out, and I think we’re a tough team to beat when we start the way we started,” first-year Falcons coach Joe Hyland said. “We did have some things go our way early and the turnovers certainly helped, but in all three phases we were clicking in a way that hasn’t happened since midseason in a couple games.”

Falcons’ senior Sam Neville has been on the varsity since he was a freshman and has been part of all four state championships.

Neville had six catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

“I don’t think there are any words to describe it,” Neville said. “It’s incredible, and we’ve had great community support, great coaching and great teammates to make anything like this possible.”

Junior quarterback Gaetano Vallone led West Catholic by completing 13 of 20 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

He also ran for 94 yards on 13 carries and scored on a 37-yard run in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.

After kicker Liam Putz set a new state finals record with a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, Vallone tossed a 91-yard touchdown pass to Brett Meyers and then back-to-back scores to Neville on passes of 24 and 91 yards.

“I throw a lot of 50-50 balls to my receivers and I trust them completely,” Vallone said. “They are big guys and I know they are going to go up and get the ball if its in their vicinity.

“We just wanted to win every game, win the day and it was a team effort.”

Vallone suffered an elbow injury in the first game of the season, but returned to help spark the tournament run.

“We practice those type of balls, and he’s a gamer,” said Meyers, who had three catches for 143 yards. “He led us as a sophomore, and we knew he was coming back. He had that injury, but he battled back. I think it all started up front with our offensive line, and they worked hard this year and gave him time.”

The Falcons racked up 463 yards of total offense and forced seven Maroons’ turnovers.

They picked off quarterback Ethan Mileski four times, two each by Neville and Connor Bolthouse, and had three fumble recoveries.

“Coming into the game we felt very confident offensively and with what our defense is capable of,” Hyland said. “We felt really good coming into the game and we’re very happy that it worked out the way that it did.”