20 YEARS OF STATE CHAMPS! 20 STATE CHAMPIONS SERIES: 2005 BIRMINGHAM BROTHER RICE
Birmingham — Ornery, determined and mega-talented is a tough combination to compete with on the gridiron.
The 2005 Birmingham Brother Rice squad came into the season mad and hungry. The Warriors ended the campaign fat and happy, hoisting a Division 2 state-championship trophy.
“We were on a mission from Day 1,” said then-Warriors’ senior captain and all-state tailback John Goebel looking back on the team’s run to a state title. “The way the previous year had ended was on our minds the whole offseason. We came into the 2005 season and that year’s playoffs with revenge on our minds. That group of seniors and juniors was a very goal-oriented crew and we were dialed in-in, razor-focused to make amends for how things ended in 2004.”
The 2004 Warriors club was 9-0 in the regular season and ranked No. 1 in the state until Orchard Lake St. Mary’s upended Brother Rice 18-16 in the regionals.
Goebel (Cincinnati) and his ’05 team began the season 7-0 before losing to St. Mary’s in back-to-back weeks to close the regular season, the last loss coming in a 20-7 ball game in the Prep Bowl and Catholic League crown. Adversity continued to strike and junior quarterback Mike Cappetto was banged up forcing sophomore back-up Andy Lentz into duty.
Nonetheless, the ’05 Warriors thrived when their backs were against the wall and ran the table the rest of the way, finally getting their much-sought sweet payback versus St. Mary’s in the form of a 17-8 besting in the regional finals.
“St. Mary’s was that big hurdle for us to overcome physically and mentally,” Goebel said. “Once we took St. Mary’s out in the regionals, we weren’t going to lose and we knew it.”
Brother Rice faced Hudsonville in the 2005 state championship game. Behind two first-half touchdown passes from Lentz (to Joey Henry for a 16-yard score in the first quarter and then a 9-yard scoring toss to tight end Charlie Gantt (Michigan State) in the closing seconds before halftime, the Warriors rode a knockout second-half effort by their defense to the title banner.
Goebel rushed 18 times for 84 yards and 10 tackles from his free safety position in the state finals that year. Star linebacker Chris Colasanti (Penn State) and pass rushers Matt Pickens (Western Michigan) and Matt Shango,(Wayne State) were spirited playmakers who led the defensive unit. Lineman Brian Wing (Penn) and safety Kaunda Hancock (Wayne State) also stood out on defense for the Warriors that season. Colasanti recorded 10 tackles and a sack in the state finals.
Darris Sawtelle (Tennessee-Grand Valley State) anchored the offensive line and was a major reason the quarterback situation didn’t get out of hand and Lentz seamlessly filled in for Cappetto (Duke). Lentz captained a baseball team at Brother Rice that won a state championship in 2008 and went on to play on the diamond in college at Georgetown.
The 2005 football state title was No. 7 for legendary Warriors head coach Al Fracassa, who was selected the NFL’s Coach of the Year for that season. He retired in 2013 at the age of 81 on the heels of a “3-peat” state title run (2011-2013) and owning a then MHSAA-record 430-victories,
“We played every game thinking it could be Coach Fracassa’s last, that’s how much that man inspired us and meant to us,” Goebel said. “He taught us discipline and preparation and what it took to be a champion. That entire group was in-sync, from game day to the practice field to the weight room to the classroom, we were a tight-knit team that was singularly driven to get him another state championship for what had already been an historic career. We thought it could be the last chance he had at getting another one. Little did we know, he’d coach almost a decade more and bag the three-peat to end it, which was obviously appropriate, But in that ’05 season we were playing just as much for him as we were for us”