FOOTBALL: Brother Ricd beats OLSM, gets monkey off Fracassa’s back in final meeting vs. Eaglets
ORCHARD LAKE – Unlike the last couple of weeks, Birmingham Brother Rice didn’t need any last-second heroics against Catholic League-rival Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Friday night to nab the win and stay perfect on the year.
The two-time defending state-champion Warriors busted open a tight game in the third quarter before coasting to a 31-14 victory that ruined Senior Night in the Eaglets’ Nest, improved their overall record to an unblemished 6-0 and gave legendary head coach Al Fracassa and the program its first-ever win on St. Mary’s home field.
"I had never won here prior to tonight, so that makes this victory feel a little more special than maybe it usually would be," said Fracassa, in his 54th year as a head coach in Metro Detroit prep ranks.
Entering Friday’s CHSL-Central affair, Brother Rice has grabbed victories in its prior two games courtesy of back-to-back touchdowns passes in the closing moments by star junior quarterback Alex Malzone.
Smart and steady under center as usual on Friday, Malzone completed 14-of-26 pass-attempts for 150 yards and a 15-yard touchdown connection with Warriors junior wide receiver Grant Perry at the end of the second quarter to knot the game 7-7 heading into the intermission.
Senior Jason Alessi kicked a 22-yard field goal to put the Warriors ahead 10-7 shortly after halftime. Brother Rice would never trail again.
Alessi’s 35-yard interception-return for a touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter ballooned the Warriors’ lead to 24-7.
Shon Powell, Brother Rice’s shifty speedster at the tailback position, blazed into the end zone from 5 yards out with three minutes left in the fourth to make it 31-14 and put a bow on the gratifying road-win.
Fracassa, the state’s winningest head coach on the gridiron and in his final season on the sidelines at Brother Rice, finishes his series with fellow state-power St. Mary’s at 15-12 all-time.
"This is always a heated rivalry and the score might not show it, but this was a tough game for us to come out on top in," Fracassa said. "St. Mary’s is a very well coached team and has a lot of kids that can make plays. We had to contain them and I think we did a nice job of that, while still making some important plays ourselves."
Brian Walker, Powell’s backfield mate, registered his second straight outing over the 100-yard marker Friday evening, toting the ball 17 times for a game-high 110 yards, including an impressive 35-yard scoring run in the third quarter that lifted the Warriors advantage to a two-score margin and seemed to break St. Mary’s’ spirits.
On the defensive side of things, Brother Rice was stifling, allowing very few sustained drives. Junior lineman Jack Dunaway and senior strong safety Charles Gleeson recorded 10 tackles apiece to pace the Warriors ‘D.’
Gleeson, a back-up last year and for the opening half of this season, has been splendid since stepping into a starting spot in Brother Rice’s secondary in Week 5 versus Novi Detroit Catholic Central. Showing an ability and penchant for big hits, he has a combined 20 wrap-ups the last two weeks.
St. Mary’s (3-3), the defending CHSL Central champs, got both of its touchdowns Friday from Michigan State-commit Jalen Watts-Jackson. In the first quarter, Watts-Jacksons stripped the ball from a Brother Rice receiver and took it for a 65-yard touchdown the other way. Then in the fourth, he caught a 35-yard scoring bomb from senior signal-caller Evan Henry (10-of-25 passing for 105 yards).
To honor the soon-to-be-retiring Fracassa, St. Mary’s has created the "Albert Fracassa War Eagle Trophy", an award to be bestowed upon the annual winner of the Brother Rice-St. Mary’s game from this year forward.
"That’s a pretty fine-looking trophy they gave us and it shows what a class program and community St. Mary’s has," Fracassa said. "I’m not going to be here after this fall, however the winner of this game will hopefully always get a chance to know who I was and what I stood for because now my name’s on this trophy. I think that’s a neat tribute and tells you all you need to know about how much this rivalry means to both schools."
Head coach George Porritt and his St. Mary’s club have advanced into the state finals in five of the last six seasons, taking home a crown in 2011.