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Backup QB Marcus ‘Air’ Groves helps lead Flint Powers past Notre Dame Prep for regional title

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 16, 2019, 11:06 am

PONTIAC — It’s not often that a little-used, senior backup will get a nickname bestowed upon him for completing one pass in a playoff game, but Marcus “Air” Groves will certainly be happy to be the outlier.

Two plays after Flint Powers’ do-it-all quarterback Luke Philpotts left Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s William Kozyra Alumni Field with a badly sprained ankle in Friday night’s Division 4 regional title game, Groves made what was arguably the biggest offensive play what was otherwise a defensive struggle in the cold and snow.

Set up on the door step, Donavan Franklin scored on the next play, and would contribute two rushing touchdowns, as Powers beat Notre Dame Prep, 12-9, to move on to the semifinals for the first time since 2015.

“How about that, huh? He (Groves) make a couple big plays, had a couple nice blocks on some reverses there, too,” Powers coach Jerry Todd said. “If we’re going to move on, we knew our seniors had to have great games, I didn’t expect a backup senior to have a great game, but he certainly did. I’m proud of him. But I’m proud of all of them.”

The Chargers (10-2) will take on the winner of Saturday’s regional final between Milan and Detroit Country Day. Next week’s game will be Powers’ fifth appearance in the semifinals since 2000.

“We’re feeling real good. Now that we got this game, we feel like we can get the next game, and then states it is,” Franklin said. “Everybody’s doubting us, said we couldn’t win this game, but we weren’t doubting themselves.”

They might’ve been doubting a bit when Philpotts went out with a badly twisted ankle on a 2-yard loss with just over a minute to go in a scoreless first half. He was helped off the field, unable to put any weight on his left leg.

Enter Groves.

“You know, it’s funny, because all day, everybody was saying — and we knocked on wood and everything — ‘What if he gets hurt? What are we going to do?’ Even Luke asked me, and I said, ‘I’m going to go in and do my thing,’” Groves said. “I did not expect it at all, but I was ready for the chance, and that’s what I’ve been ready for all season.”

His first pass — a screen — was incomplete, but on the second play, he lofted a 36-yard bomb up for Nevaeh Sanders in double coverage, and his fellow senior came down with the 50/50 ball, stretching it toward the goal line as he was tackled. 

“Sometimes, I try to lead them, but this time, I threw it up, and I trusted my teammate,” Groves said. “Nevaeh went up and got it for me. It was a great play by him.”

Sanders was ruled short of the end zone, but Franklin punched it in from the ND 1 a play later to give Powers a 6-0 lead with 39.5 seconds left in the half.

“It was huge. We had to tell him (Groves), ‘You’re good. Just focus up,’ and just give him that confidence,” Franklin said.

Powers was able to make two touchdowns (minus missed extra points) stand up for the win because of a defense that shut down a potent Notre Dame Prep offense in the red zone, stopping the Irish (10-2) twice on goal-to-go possessions.

“Just good team defense. We had a great game plan. We lost a little discipline there at times, but we thought the weather would be a factor, too, with them throwing it around like they do,” Todd said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter battle, but if we could find a way to put some points on the board, believe in our defense, get some stops, and everything kind of came together for us.”

The second of those goal-line stalls actually got the Irish on the board, as they turned it over on downs at the Powers 1, then kept the Chargers from getting a first down coming out, forcing Powers to punt from its own end zone. With backup punter Vincent Smith fielding the snap in the place of Philpotts, the snap went loose in the end zone, and the Irish made the tackle there for a safety, cutting the deficit to 6-2. 

After the free kick, Notre Dame Prep drove the ball 73 yards for the go-ahead score, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from Connor Gaeschke — who had 192 yards on 34 carries — three plays into the fourth quarter to make it 9-6 with 10:56 left.

Powers answered with a 12-play drive that took five minutes off the clock, as Franklin powered in from 9 yards out to allow Powers to regain the lead, 12-9, with 5:40 left.

“It was huge,” Franklin said. “They were blocking for me, and I just saw the hole, and I just had to get it, man.” 

An interception by Ben McCartney on Notre Dame Prep’s next third-down play allowed Powers to grind the clock all the way down to the final 10 seconds before they punted it out of the back of the end zone with 8.8 left.

In that final, time-chewing drive, Philpotts came back in the game, running for tough yardage, getting out in front as the lead blocker for a pair of Sanders reverses for first downs. 

“Yeah, he’s as tough as they come. He’s limping around, but he wanted to come in and try to make a difference. I think that helped to rally us a little bit, to see him back on the field,” Todd said. “He’s going to be sore tomorrow, but hopefully we can get him back for next week.”

Groves certainly didn’t mind rotating back and forth with the starter, either.

“That dude, man — he’s like a machine. It’s crazy,” Groves said. “That’s why I don’t ever get mad: As long as we’re winning, as long as he’s doing his thing, I can’t get upset.”