De La Salle stuns Brother Rice, semifinals next
Berkley – Warren De La Salle coach Paul Verska’s favorite band is the Smashing Pumpkins.
He doesn’t know any of their songs but if you start singing he will hum along.
De La Salle pulled off one of the big surprises of the state playoffs as it ended Birmingham Brother Rice’s 33-game winning streak with a 26-21 victory in a Division 2 regional final on Saturday at Hurley Field in Berkley.
De La Salle (9-3) will play Southfield (9-3) in a semifinal next Saturday at a site to be determined. Troy Athens is one possible site and the game will start at 1 p.m.
Verska said following his team’s 21-14 victory over Detroit East English Village Prep last week that his Pilots wanted to play and beat the “pumpkin heads”. Brother Rice’s colors are orange and black, and the Warriors wear bright orange helmets, hence the pumpkin head moniker.
“We were ready for them,” Verska said. “We made so many mistakes in the first half. But we came back. I told them at halftime we could be down 21-0 or 14-0. They’re a great team. They do what they do. You just have to stop them.”
What top-ranked Brother Rice (11-1) has done the past two seasons is throw the ball effectively led by Alex Malzone and Grant Perry. Malzone is the state’s top quarterback and he’s committed to Michigan. Perry, who has yet to commit to a school, is perhaps the state’s top receiver. Perry had 16 receptions (199 yards) to give him a state-record 105 for the season. D.J. Mershman (Sterling Heights Stevenson, 2009) held the previous record of 98.
The Warriors started the game as if they would win their 34th consecutive game as Malzone threw touchdown passes of 17 and nine yards to Perry staking Brother Rice to a 14-0 lead with 11:51 left in the first half.
This fact, and others, made this victory so special for the Pilots.
De La Salle can look back on three huge plays that turned this game around. The first came with 6:28 left in the half when Joey Garbarino threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Myles Charley that cut the deficit to 14-6.
Verska’s words at halftime had an immediate affect when, on the third play of the second half, Garbarino faked a quarterback draw, drawing the linebackers in, and completed a pass to Allen Stritzinger in the right flat and the sophomore running back outran the secondary to complete a 74-yard touchdown play and De La Salle pulled to within 14-12.
“We had that one in our hip pocket,” Garbarino said of the pass to Stritzinger. “We kind of new it would go for a touchdown. We noticed on film (a Brother Rice lienbacker) would come up on the quarterback draw. We ran it. It was the perfect time.”
Uncharacteristically, Brother Rice then turned the ball over. Malzone’s pass over the middle was tipped and Tru Wilson intercepted and returned it 40 yards to the 2-yard line. The plays later Garbarino snuck it in from a yard out, the two-point conversion try was good and De La Salle took a 20-14 lead with 8:35 left in the third.
“I broke on it,” Wilson said. “It was a bad pass and their receiver tipped it.
“We worked on defense so much this week. It’s hard to match their ability. We played tight on (their receivers). We didn’t give them any room. They play for the sticks. And they’re good at making big plays. To beat them in the playoffs, it’s a great feeling.”
De La Salle’s defense played well throughout. Wilson said it was the best they’ve played all season considering the opposition. Brother Rice gained just two first downs on its next two possessions and gained but 34 yards.
The Pilots then put together their most consistent drive and they went 61 yards in 11 plays to take a 26-14 lead on Garbarino’s 13-yard touchdown run with 8:12 left.
Brother Rice, the three-time defending state champion, had won three straight against the Pilots including a 28-21 victory earlier this season and a 26-24 victory last season that caused a wave of controversy because of an intentional grounding call that was not made against Brother Rice in the final seconds that led to the winning touchdown.
The bitterness of that defeat was erased on Saturday but Brother Rice didn’t go quietly.
Malzone’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Perry with 2:06 left brought the Warriors to within five points. Alex Nast’s onside kick was recovered by Perry on the De La Salle 44 but an offensive holding penalty and a sack by Ryan Smith were instrumental in ending the Warriors’ season.
Garbarino was 11-for-16 for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He had 65 yards rushing and Stritzinger had 77 yards on 23 carries.
For Brother Rice Malzone, who had won 25 straight as a starter, completed 23 of 40 attempts for 251 yards and the three touchdowns. He was sacked four times, a tribute to De La Salle’s defense and the preparation of the coaching staff, notably defensive coordinator Mike Lewis.
“Any loss is tough when you get this far,” Brother Rice coach Dave Sofran said. “It hurts bad. But it’s part of life.”