De La Salle upsets King, 14-13, returns to D2 finals for the first time since 2014
Hazel Park – Mike Giannone’s first season at Warren De La Salle didn’t go exactly the way he would have liked as the Pilots went 4-5. He wasn’t used to missing the playoffs, and knew the team had to have a renewed sense of redemption for this year.
The Pilots responded to that challenge in a big way in a rain drenched Division 2 semifinal against the two time defending champion Detroit King at Hazel Park on Saturday.
De La Salle edged the Crusaders, 14-13, and will return to Ford Field where they it won a state title three years ago. The Pilots (11-2) will face Livonia Franklin (11-2) on Friday at 1 p.m.
“The season is a mental endurance test. A lot of our kids are mentally tough, and strong willed. It’s why they came to this school. You can’t take the playoffs for granted. It was redemption for us. We couldn’t be happier to be in this spot competing for a title,” Giannone said.
The game plan against King (12-1) was simple: keep the Crusaders and junior quarterback DeQuan Finn off the field for as long as they could.
The Pilots (11-2) have a leader at quarterback in senior Luke Pfromm that Giannone has relied on all season.
“He’s a great leader. He’s calm. He’s composed, and when he goes out there the kids understand, and want him leading the way. They think they’re going to score every time he’s out there,” he said.
Pfromm did exactly that on the opening drive.
Working on a short field from the opening kickoff, the Pilots were immediately sent to the red zone on a 34-yard run by junior Evan Vaillancourt. Four plays later, Pfromm scored on a fourth down sneak from the 1-yard line to take a 7-0 lead with 7:59 left in the first quarter.
“I told the guys we needed to score, and set the tone,” Pfromm said.
King marched right now the field on the ensuing drive thanks to a gamble on fourth down of their own. Finn kept the ball on fourth-and-one for 56 yards before being tackled inside the Pilots’ 10. A great defensive play by senior Tanner Myers broke up a would-be touchdown, and kept the Crusaders off the board.
King used its opening drive of the second half to create a scoring opportunity with 5:38 left in the third quarter.
Under duress, Finn kept the play alive with his feet as he rolled to left. He found RaShawn Williams tucked inside the pylon for a 10-yard touchdown that tied the game 7-7.
Two drives later, Giannone gambled with the passing game, and let Pfromm showcase his arm on a play action pass to senior Jake Badalamenti. The 5-foot-9 receiver jumped over two defenders, wrestled the ball away and scored from 44-yards out to build a 14-7 lead with 8:29 left in the fourth quarter.
“Right when I saw that ball, I knew I was going to catch it. Nothing was going to stop me from snagging that ball,” Badalamenti said. “It was a great ball by Luke, and I never thought I could jump that high, but I high pointed the football, and scored.”
King had an opportunity to tie the game back up late in the fourth quarter, but something went wrong after Finn scored on a one-yard keeper of his own to bring King to within 14-13.
On the extra point try, the snap went wide, and the Crusaders were forced to scramble to not only recover the ball, but also try to score. The Pilots defense in a furious pursuit swarmed the play, and secured the lead.
The Pilots then ran the clock out ensuring victory on the final drive.
“We’ve played well at Ford Field during the Catholic League championship a few weeks ago. It’s nice going back there to play for another title,” Pfromm said.