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Everest Collegiate blocks last-second Riverview Richard field goal to win first Catholic League C-D title

By: Matthew B. Mowery, October 21, 2018, 12:30 am

DETROIT — They’d never blocked a kick with it, but the Clarkston Everest Collegiate Mountaineers had the package in place, if they needed it.

And they needed it Saturday afternoon at Ford Field.

With less than a minute left in Saturday’s Prep Bowl XLVI, and the Catholic League’s C-D championship on the line, Riverview Gabriel Richard — trailing Everest Collegiate by a point — lined up for a potential game-winning field goal from the Mountaineers’ 6-yard line.

That’s when Everest Collegiate ran the block play they’d been practicing all year long, and it worked, with Jimmy Neme stretching out to stifle the 23-yard field goal attempt by Gabriel Richard’s Ivan Hernandez.

“Going in, I was a little nervous, but I knew we could do it,” said Mountaineer Josh Legg, who had four touchdowns, admitting that last year’s lopsided CHSL championship game loss to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood was a motivator this time around. “Yeah, we for sure had a chip on our shoulder, but we came in just ready to play.”

Three kneel-downs and an offsides penalty later, and the Mountaineers were able to celebrate a 36-35 win that clinched their first Catholic League title.

“Great effort by the kids, them believing they could. We have a field goal block (play) in. Came down to this time, and that’s why you practice it all year. Those kids kept believing, kept going hard, and good things happened. It’s pretty neat,” said Everest Collegiate coach Michael Pruchnicki. “That’s the first one that we blocked. We saved it for this one. Hopefully we can keep it going a couple more weeks.”

The Mountaineers (8-1) head into the Division 8 playoffs with a better feeling, coming off a win, rather than two straight losses. A 31-26 setback to Royal Oak Shrine in Week 8 broke up the possibility of an undefeated regular season.

But the C-D championship game drew eyes from across the state throughout the evening more for their opponent. At 5-3, the Pioneers had a chance to cause some movement in the lower tiers of the playoffs, were they to get their sixth win an automatically qualify for the postseason.

In the end, they came up just short.

“We had the ball right where we wanted it, had to kick a field goal, and let it get blocked, so … We had an opportunity to get the ball back, and a kid jumps offsides. Just not being disciplined at the big moments,” Richard coach Tom Michalsen said. “They blocked that last field goal, and beat us on special teams, and that ended up being the difference. Kicked it over our head on the safety, put us in a bad spot, and we started chasing some points.”

The Mountaineers turned two Gabriel Richard turnovers into second-quarter points, with Legg scooping up the first fumble, and returning it 22 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. But that 29-20 lead wouldn’t last, as Richard’s Nevin Hughes scored on a 4-yard run as time expired in the first half to cut it to 29-27.

An interception by Nathan Palumbo, followed by a 64-yard bomb from sophomore backup quarterback Joe Wisniewski to Nick Conrad set up Palumbo’s 4-yard touchdown run to put Richard back in front, 33-29.

A 62-yard punt by Evan Orme downed at the Mountaineer 2-yard line set up a safety that would increase Richard’s lead to 35-29. But Everest backed Richard up on the free kick, and flipped field position, getting the ball back at midfield, and getting a 5-yard touchdown by Legg on an option pitch with 4:40 left to tie it up at 35-35. Rodrigo DeNigris’ extra point put Everest back in the lead, 36-35.

A 33-yard run by Palumbo set the Pioneers up on the doorstep of field-goal range, and they slowly maneuvered inside the Moutaineer 10 before coming to a fourth-and-goal from the 6 with 52 seconds left.

Following Neme’s block, Everest took a knee twice, forcing the Pioneers to take their timeouts. Quarterback Gio Mastromatteo hit Nino Mastromatteo with a 9-yard pass on third down, but there were still 32 seconds left and 3 yards to go for a first.

“I think that’s the thought right there, you figure that if they miss it, then we’ve got (to take) the knees, and we were told they had two timeouts. That’s why we took the knees. And then the official was like ‘No, they’ve got one more,’” Pruchnicki said of his arguments with the officials, trying to sort out how many timeouts remained. “I was just trying to communicate, because they were telling the kids one thing, me another. One official was telling me one thing, the other was telling me something different. I just wanted to get on the same page. Hopefully, I didn’t make a scene or anything.”

Richard jumped offsides on fourth down, though, giving Everest a first down, and the ability to kneel on the ball again, and end the game.