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Pair of touchdown runs from Grace lead Swan Valley past Freeland

By: Brian VanOchten, October 3, 2014, 11:13 pm

Freeland – Alex Grace, the most prolific single-season rusher in state history, hit the hole in the middle of the line and read the blocking up front. He slipped through an opening, cut to his left and then used his speed to complete a stunning 60-yard touchdown run.

The first touchdown for the all-state running back from Saginaw Swan Valley tied the score against Freeland in the first half of a showdown between undefeated Tri-Valley Conference Central Division rivals Friday night.

His second touchdown for the Vikings – a 2-yard run in the second half – proved to be the difference in a 14-7 victory.

"No, I knew coming into this game it was a battle of undefeated teams. I knew it would be tough," said the 6-foot, 210-pound Grace, who set the state rushing record with 2,962 yards and 36 TDs as a junior last year.

"We fought for every yard."

Grace, who has verbally committed to Western Michigan, finished with 35 carries for 277 yards despite fighting through cramps that kept the senior off the field for a handful of plays in the fourth quarter.

Grace’s tenacity help lead Swan Valley (6-0) to its most important win of the season.

"It ranks right up there," Swan Valley coach Ken Bourbina said of one of the finest performances of Grace’s career. "They’re a really solid team and he stepped up against them. They were getting tired of tackling him."

Freeland (5-1) had an opportunity to tie it up in the fourth quarter.

On fourth-and-2 from the Swan Valley 8-yard line, Freeland senior running back Jake Jankoska burst through the left side and had enough yardage for the first down until senior cornerback Isaiah Berden made a huge hit. Berden put his helmet squarely on the football, which senior linebacker Brock Notter recovered at the 4.

The forced fumble sealed the outcome.

"(Our defense) was around that ball all the time," Bourbina said.

The Falcons scored the first touchdown on senior quarterback Jarett Riffel’s 1-yard run at 9:16 of the second quarter. On Freeland’s last possession, a drive that began at its 9-yard line, the Falcons reached the Swan Valley 38 before Riffel was intercepted by Nate Neuenfeldt with 1:14 remaining.

Swan Valley used Grace to wear down the Freeland defense throughout the contest.

He touched the football 17 times in the first half, rushing 16 times for 139 yards and catching a 9-yard pass from senior quarterback Nick Call. He sped past the Freeland secondary on his 60-yard touchdown run at 6:11 of the second quarter.

"It was originally supposed to be an inside run," Graqce said. "But I got up to the line and our guys did a great job of walling it off. I just hit the outside highway. It’s a great feeling. If I don’t see anyone right or left, I’m confident no one is going to catch me."

His tie-breaking touchdown run at 1:49 of the third quarter showed off his power running skills. He got popped at the line of scrimmage for what might’ve been a loss, but he bounced off the Freeland tackler, put his helmet down and kept driving his legs until he reached the end zone.

"He is tough to bring down. He’s a man," Bourbina said.

The appreciative Grace praised his offensive line for making it much easier to push through defenses and score second-effort touchdowns in goal-line situations – not just breakaway sprints.

"I’m a bigger back, so I’m able to run through the tackles," Grace said. "It’s a lot easier when your line is pushing the defense five yards off the ball. Our offensive line opened the holes and I just ran through them."