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DIVISION 3 FOOTBALL: Grand Rapids Christian outguns St. Mary’s in OT for state title

By: Dan Stickradt, November 25, 2012, 12:03 am

Schipper’s field goal aids Eagles first-ever crown


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DETROIT — Grand Rapids Christian and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s combined for more total yards than any other two teams in the history of the MHSAA football state finals. It took a defensive stop and a pair of heroic kicks to finally settle matters on the field.

Joel Schipper drilled a 28-yard field goal with four seconds left in regulation and then booted a 27-yarder in overtime for the game-winning points, as second-ranked Grand Rapids Christian posted a wild, 40-37, victory over the fifth-ranked St. Mary’s in the Division 3 state finals at Ford Field in Detroit.

It marked the first state title in school history for Grand Rapids Christian (13-1).

“That kid is incredible,” smiled Grand Rapids Christian coach Don Fellows of Schipper. “I mean to come in and make those two field goals like that, with all of that pressure, is amazing.

“You know it’s funny but I had a dream back over the summer and I told some people that we would beat St. Mary’s in overtime at Ford Field. It’s incredible to think that it came true,” added fellows. “I just had a feeling.”

Grand Rapids Christian blocked both a field goal and extra point in regulation. The Eagles also stopped the Eaglets (11-2), the defending state champions, on fourth-and-goal from the four on the first series of overtime, which set the stage for Schipper.

Named to the Associated Press All-State First Team earlier in the week, Schipper left no doubt on the game-winning boot.

“It’s my first (game-winning field goal),” smiled Schipper. “There is so much pressure. The coach had so much confidence in me. He put me out there in that situation and I’m glad I came through for my team.”

St. Mary’s went ahead 2:06 left in regulation, when Grant Niemiec ended a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard run up the middle and Paul Graham nailed the extra point for a 37-34 lead.

The Eaglets couldn’t hang on and took a major gamble in overtime of opting not to kick on fourth down.

“We felt we needed the touchdown,” said St. Mary’s coach George Porritt. “We wanted to put them in position to have to have to (counter) with a touchdown. It didn’t work out for us.”

Behind the play of junior Drake Harris, who finished with a state finals record 243 yards on eight catches, the Eagles came back to force overtime. Harris made a pair of eye-popping grabs on the game-tying drive to keep his team’s title drive alive.

Harris became the 12th player nationally all-time to finish with over 2,000 receiving yards in a single season and now has the MHSAA state record of 2,016 total yards.

“I’ve had games like this before, but never in a game like this,” said Harris, who has already committed to Michigan State. “All that matters is the state championship.”

The two teams combined for a state finals record-setting 1,033 total yards offense with neither side building more than a 13-point lead.

Grand Rapids Christian led 20-7 midway through the second quarter, only to see St. Mary’s claw to within 20-14 at the half.

The Eaglets tied the game at 20-20 and grabbed its first advantage at 30-27 with 9:32 left in the contest on a 1-yard plunge from Niemiec.

Niemiec, honored as Player of the Year on the Associated Press’ Division 3-4 All-State team released earlier this week, put the Eaglets up 37-34 with 2:06 left thanks to a 4-yard run. He finished with 168 yards on 28 carries.

Parker McInnis racked up 269 rushing yards on 25 carries, as the Eaglets collected 459 total rushing yards. Matt Linehan was 9-for-14 passing for 120 yards for St. Mary’s.

Seth McIntosh had 79 yards on 11 carries and scored three touchdowns for Grand Rapids Christian. Quarterback Andy VanDeVusse collected 307 passing yards on a 16-for-26 performance, which included one scoring toss to the hands of Harris.

“This is the most incredible feeling,” smiled VanDeVusse. “To win this way, coming back in regulation and to win it in overtime…It’s a dream come true.”


(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)