BURNSTEIN COLUMN: Despite bad call, Brother Rice-De La Salle “Hail Mary Game” one for the ages
Saturday’s Birmingham Brother Rice-Warren De La Salle football game had one of the wildest and craziest conclusions I’ve ever seen.
The heart-pounding, drama-filled affair ended twice.
The first with visiting De La Salle winning and the last with Brother Rice prevailing 26-24 on a breathtaking Hail Mary hook-up between Warriors quarterback Alex Malzone and “Mr. Do Everything,” himself, Jason Alessi, with no time remaining, sparking delirium from the home team and its crowd and seething anger and frustration from the stunned and defeated Pilots.
Even though De La Salle probably got robbed, the game goes down as an instant classic in the area’s prep annals, regardless of sport.
That’s how fabulous this contest was, simply electric.
Now, to the specifics.
In my opinion the decision by the referees to put time back on the clock following what looked like the Pilots’ bagging the win was wrong.
Here’s what happened:
With Brother Rice (4-0) behind 24-20 and the clock showing seven seconds left, Malzone dropped back to pass and was engulfed by a blitzkrieg of De La Salle defenders. As the clock ran out, It appeared he was sacked and fumbled or at the very least threw the ball to nobody in his vicinity, which should have been an intentional grounding penalty.
Either way the game should have been over.
De La Salle and its fans stormed the field, celebrating triumphantly, thinking they had just won the game courtesy of senior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Brett Morris only moments prior to what they believed was the game-clinching defensive stop.
Not so fast, fellas, the officials said.
The refs ruled that Malzone’s fumble was actually an incomplete pass – it was, just to a spot on the right sideline where the closest Rice receiver was a good 25 yards away in the other direction –, cleared the field of shocked Pilots and told the scoreboard operator to place two seconds back on the clock.
Whether that was the right decision or not – it wasn’t – I give the refs credit for one thing they made their call authoritatively and with no hesitation.
Was this because the game was being held in Warriors territory, Brother Rice’s home turf and the Warriors themselves are the two-time defending state champions?
That said, all the kudos in the world have to go to Malzone, one of the best junior quarterbacks in the state, and Alessi, a three-sport wunderkind who was lining up on offense for the first time in his varsity career on the Hail Mary he hauled in.
They made the play, a huge play that was nearly impossible to make.
Alessi’s catch was over the shoulder, diving and made while he was heavily covered and had to land in-bounds with a tip-toed snare.
Paul Verska, De La Salle’s head coach, was so incensed after the final play (Part 2) he had to be restrained by security officials on more than one occasion trying to get to the referees for an explanation. His club (2-2) could miss the playoff because of the loss.
Emotions were certainly running high.
Brother Rice’s legendary sideline general, Al Fracassa (winningest coach in MHSAA history) was overwhelmed after the chaotic finish and could barely put together the words to express what he was feeling.
“The ending was as dramatic as possible,” he said. “This was as great a win as I’ve ever had.”
It certainly was coach, it certainly was.