Big plays help West Catholic pull away from Grand Rapids C.C.
GRAND RAPIDS — The Catholics in Grand Rapids have been waiting seven years for this day to return.
A regular foe when they both played in the Grand Rapids City League, and two years as non-conference rivals thereafter, the rivalry between the two football teams was halted in 2009 because the game, and the fandom, became too intense.
But because of realignment in the OK Conferences, both teams were placed in the OK BLue this year, and the game was back on.
And if anybody thought this game would be less intense, they were wrong, as both teams came into Friday’s game at new Catholic Central Cougar Stadium Friday night with 4-0 conference records.
Winner wins a share of the conference crown with a week left in the regular season.
And the game did not disappoint 10,339 fans in attendance, as both teams exchanged punches through the first three quarters, with the visiting Falcons holding a slim three-point leading heading into the final 12 minutes.
In the final quarter, West Catholic used two big plays, a 90-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gaetano Vallone to Sam Neville, and a recovered fumble deep in Catholic Central’s territory on the ensuing drive that led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Vallone that gave the reigning three-time Division 5 state champions the victory, 20-3.
"This has been the biggest stage we have had this year," first-year West Catholic coach Joe Hyland said. "I’m really proud of our kids, on such a big stage, to put it together. And to be challenged like they were challenged. During the year we won some games that we played sloppy, but as good a team that Catholic Central is, that forced us to play good."
Both teams played tight, and made some minor mistakes through the first quarter, especially on offense. That resulted in only three field goals through 36 minutes of play, and a 6-3 West Catholic lead.
The big momentum changer happened early in the fourth when Catholic Central had the ball deep in West Catholic territory, but was unable to score.
Cougars coach Todd Kolster decided to try and go for it on fourth down inside the West Catholic 10-yard line, instead of kicking a field goal and tying the game.
Three plays later Vallone hit Neville on the 90-yard touchdown down the Catholic Central sidelines.
And the next drive, the Cougars fumbled at their own 10-yard line, and Vallone took the ball in from there.
"I think that was the perfect time (for the long pass)," Hyland said. "And attribute that to (Vallone), he is such a competitor, and I really trust that kid. He threw a perfect ball to Sam, who finds a way week in and week out to make big plays. It worked for us."
It didn’t work on the other side of the field.
"It was a really bad decision by me (not to kick the field goal)," Kolster said. "I take 100 percent of the blame for that. I thought I had something, which we didn’t. In hindsight, yeah I wanted to kick the field goal. But I gave it a shot, we missed it, and it’s 100 percent my fault."
Both teams are now 7-1 overall.