FOOTBALL: Seaholm blazes past Groves in epic intra-city clash, captures second OAA Blue crown in a row
BIRMINGHAM – The crowd and set-up were both all-time classics.
In the end, the game was pretty darn good, too.
Playing in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a high school football game in the city of Birmingham (almost 5,000), the Maples of Birmingham Seaholm bested arch-rival Birmingham Groves 28-20 in an intense Oakland Activities Association Blue Division affair.
The contest matched previous unbeaten clubs for the first time in the cross-town showdown series dating back over a half Century and had the entire area buzzing for weeks in advance.
Falling behind 12-0, host Seaholm (8-0) was undaunted and stormed back, sending its’ Homecoming crowd into a frenzy.
When senior quarterback Brandon Altman hit Chris Hill with a 3-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the first half, the Maples had themselves a 14-12 lead at the break.
Hill is usually the team’s all-league middle linebacker on defense, however sees minutes at tight end as well.
Maples’ tailback Nick Vestevich’s 13-yard scoring scamper midway through the third quarter made it 21-12 in Seaholm’s favor.
The game seemed to tilt on a sequence of fateful events in the early fourth quarter, propelling the Maples to a repeat OAA Blue championship and Groves (7-1) to its first loss of the year.
With the score still 21-12, it appeared that the Groves’ special teams unit had forced a turnover at the 10:15 mark of the final frame, recovering a punt that had struck a Seaholm return-man’s foot at the Maples’ 40-yard line.
The officials’ initially ruled it to be Groves’ ball, but overruled their original decision and gave possession to Seaholm.
Wasting little time taking advantage of the gift from the zebras, Seaholm quickly scored a touchdown on a fluke play.
Senior Maples’ wide receiver Kerry Mott took a deflected Altman-to-Jack Mentag pass in for a 40-yard score with 9:15 remaining to place Seaholm on top 28-12.
“I saw the ball in the air and just tried to make a play for my team,” said Mott of the clutch effort where Mentag tipped Altman’s pass in the air at the 20 yard-line and he ran under and grabbed it with nobody in front of him impeding his progress to the end zone.
“I was surprised that I didn’t see any Groves players in my path, so I took it to the house,” recalled Mott, his eyes getting big just thinking about it.
Altman totaled over 200 yards from scrimmage, connecting on 6-of-9 pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns through the air and then picking up another 80 yards with his legs.
The vaunted Seaholm defense played its’ part in the win, limiting Groves superstar running back Ross Williams to a paltry 13 yards on a mere seven carries. He was averaging roughly 150 yards an outing prior to facing the Maples.
Williams did score on a 70-yard punt-return for a touchdown in the first quarter to make it 12-0 less than six minutes into action.
The Falcons first score of the night came via junior slotback Cherrod Cohen’s dazzling 68-yard touchdown that came off a bubble screen pass from junior quarterback Zach Van Faussien.
Looking steady and confident under center the whole way, Van Faussien engineered a late Groves’ scoring-drive – culminating in a Bryce Anderson 1-yard touchdown plunge – to make things interesting in the final three and half minutes.
It wasn’t enough.
Most people believe there stands a solid chance for Seaholm and Groves to lock horns again in the playoffs at some point in the coming weeks.
Second-year Seaholm head coach Jim DeWald was beaming following the triumph.
"We took a couple of punches to start the game and didn’t wilt," DeWald said. "That tells you a lot about this team and how they respond."