walled lake- LVC-Champion Walled Lake Western (9-1) hosted Birmingham Brother Rice (4-5) in Friday night’s MHSAA D3 District Finals in a “battle of warriors.”
Both teams played solid defensively in the first quarter and after a promising drive from Rice stuck inside the West 5-yard line, Rice coach Adam Korzeniewski opted to take all three points to give his team the first advance. Korzeniewski dispatched senior kicker Owen Pardi who scored a 20-yard field goal to put Rice up 3-0 after one quarter of play.
After a West punt, Rice junior quarterback Blake Marrogy rushed 39 yards for the game’s first touchdown to give his team two scores. The PAT was unsuccessful and Rice led 9-0 with 7:57 to go before halftime.
West senior running back Darius Taylor was able to put the Warriors on the scoreboard when he found dirt on a 21-yard run. The score was set by an interception by senior defensive back Joey Hawkins. Sophomore Max Kirk split the amounts to cut Rice’s lead to 9-7 with just over two minutes left in the half.
After a short dog kick from Western, Rice started near midfield and Marrogy and Company wasted no time in scoring another before half time expired. The junior signal caller connected with senior wideout Sam Klein for a 31-yard touchdown. Pardi converted the extra point and Rice led 16-7 at the break.
Marrogy would score again with his legs in the third quarter on a 55-yard running guard to once again give his Warriors the two-point lead after three quarters of play, 23-7.
Western was able to cut Rice’s lead to 23-15 using a little trickery when running back Gavin Noonan took a pitch from senior quarterback Drew Viotto. Noonan stopped short of the line of scrimmage and threw a 27-yard pass to senior Darrell Jones who was tackled at Rice’s 20-yard line. After tough runs from Taylor, Viotto teamed up with fellow senior Michael Bailey for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Taylor ran for the two-point conversion and Western trailed by just eight points with 10:51 left.
On the ensuing possession, Rice responded with a gimmicky game all his own, executing a reverse double pass with junior running back Cashton Papedelis who handed over senior width Ben Eck. Eck stopped in his tracks and threw the pitch to Marrogy who jumped up and beat a Western defensive back for the ball before sprinting 61 yards to the red zone. The trick play set up a two-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Andrew LaBarre with 8:47 left.
Western wouldn’t leave and the Warriors kept fighting and went seventy yards for another score. A fourth and eleven game, Viotto hit Taylor for a 12-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 30-22 with just over four minutes remaining.
With just under five minutes remaining, second-year Western coach Kory Cioroch called for an onside kick, and Kirk executed the kick perfectly and junior Aidan Branoff recovered the ball for Western near midfield.
Unfortunately, Western couldn’t take advantage of the favorable field position and after four misses, Rice took over with 4:19 left.
Rice was able to miss the time limit after Marrogy’s early runs landed his team inside Western’s five-yard line. Rice was able to line up in a victory formation to run the clock and escape with the 30-22 win.
Rice was led by Marrogy with 202 rushing yards and two scores on 16 carries. He also threw for 31 yards (1-5) and a score, and had a reception for 61 yards. Papedelis ran 11 times for 78 yards.
With the win, Rice (5-5) advances to next week’s regional final against Detroit Martin Luther King (7-3).
An exhausted Cioroch spoke about his team’s valiant efforts in the title match. “It was a one game war as we expected. Games like this usually boil down to a handful of games. Unfortunately they made those games and we didn’t tonight.
Cioroch continued. “This defeat stings at the moment, and it’s always difficult to finish the season. In due time, we can consider this season extremely successful. I love these children and I am so proud to be their coach.
Taylor led Western as he rushed for 123 yards on 16 carries and a score, and also caught a touchdown pass. Viotto threw for 70 yards (9-26) and two touchdowns. Jones led the Warriors in reception with two catches for 44 yards.
Western ended the season at 9-2 and the Warriors said goodbye to eleven seniors who were instrumental in the program’s third LVC championship. These seniors include Darius Taylor, Darrell Jones, Joey Hawkins, Michael Bailey, Drew Viotto, Joey Rachiele, Cameron Dixon, Nathan Fech, Morgan Martinez, Amare Andrews-Dennis and Skyler Garmo.
Speaking of his outgoing senior class, Cioroch said, “I am very proud of this senior class and all they have achieved. It wasn’t a large group, but their leadership, dedication and hard work made it possible for us to have a great year. Their impact will be felt in this program for years to come.