West Catholic stopped short on final play, falls in opener

Jackson Lumen Christi vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic, Friday, August 25, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Down by three with two seconds left in the game, West Catholic head coach Joe Hyland could have opted to kick a field goal and send the game into overtime. But when he gathered his team and asked for their input, he heard a clear consensus among the Falcons’ players: go for the win.

So with the ball inside the 5-yard line, Hyland drew up a designed run on the game’s final play for his senior quarterback, Gaetano Vallone. But after taking the snap, Vallone ran into a line of Titan defenders and was brought down short of the end zone as time expired, giving Lumen Christi a 27-24 victory.

“That’s how I want our team to always play. I want to play to win,” Hyland said after the game when asked about the decision to go for it. “We talked about being aggressive and assertive the right way all the time and I want to play like that.”

West Catholic took the field tonight looking to begin its pursuit of the school’s fifth consecutive Division 5 state title. After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons struck first when Vallone connected with junior Jack Schichtel, who broke several tackles en route to a 51-yard touchdown to put West Catholic up 7-0.

Just seconds later, Lumen Christi retaliated as senior running back Sebastian Toland broke free for a 93-yard run to even score 7-7. The ensuing drive, West Catholic kicker Liam Putz converted on a 36-yard field goal to put the Falcons on top. But the Titans found the end zone one more time before the half thanks to a 47-yard connection from Troy Kutcha to his tight end, Cam White, giving Lumen Christi a 14-10 lead heading into the half.

Coming out of the break, the scoring ramped up as the Lumen Christi offense immediately drove down the field, capping off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run by Toland, who would finish the game with 244 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

Trailing 21-10, the West Catholic offense came right back with a touchdown of its own as Vallone connected with junior Nick Dorato for a 24-yard touchdown to cut the Falcons’ deficit to 4. On the ensuing drive, senior Connor Bolthouse came down with an interception, giving West Catholic the ball with a chance to take the lead. But after West Catholic drove into Lumen Christi territory, the Titan’s defense stepped up and forced a fumble that was picked up by junior Nic Thomas and returned to the end zone to extend Lumen Christi’s lead to 27-17.

However, West Catholic was not done fighting as Vallone connected with Dorato for another 24-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 27-24. After the West Catholic defense forced a turnover on downs inside their own territory, Vallone helped march his offense down the field in the final minutes of the game to set up an opportunity to win in the final seconds, ultimately falling short.

After the game, Hyland said he was proud of his team’s effort and the way they fought back in the fourth quarter.

“What you saw tonight was two championship-caliber teams playing,” Hyland said. “Our kids battled. They found a way to get stops when they need it, overcome some stuff and put us in a position to win.”

Looking back on the last play, Hyland said he doesn’t regret his decision to go for the win, even though he’s confident his kicker would’ve made the field goal had he attempted one. The one thing he said he would change, however, was his final play call.

“We have a kicker (Putz) who probably could’ve kicked that from the 50 yard-line, he’s an unbelievable kid who’s battled a lot of stuff, the decision had nothing to do with him,” Hyland said. “I probably would’ve called a different play, but 100% of the time I would’ve gone for it there.”