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Vallone accounts for five touchdowns, West Catholic wins fourth consecutive title, 43-7 over Menominee

By: Ben Szilagy, November 28, 2016, 3:10 pm



Detroit – Last summer Joe Hyland was promoted to replace long time Grand Rapids West Catholic coach Dan Rohn, who guided the Falcons to three straight state titles and four in the last six years.

Even though West Catholic has a new coach, the results remain the same.

West Catholic won its fourth consecutive Division 5 championship with a 43-7 victory over Menominee on Saturday at Ford Field.

“I feel extremely fortunate to come into an opportunity, a program like this, and asked to lead it,” Hyland said. “There’s so many people in our community who talk about November, and winning in November.

“We always prepare to play our best game on our best day. It’s an honor to keep our winning tradition alive with a win like we had today.”

The Falcons (12-2) fed off its opportunistic defense early. On the second play of the game Matt Bilski recovered a fumble. Junior kicker Liam Putz set a state championship game record when he kicked a 47-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 9:19 left in the first quarter.

“Liam has been fantastic all year,” Hyland said. “We’ve always been able to count on him. He’s one of the hardest workers on our team, and today only proved how important he is to us.”

The defense remained opportunistic behind two interceptions from senior Sam Neville. One stopped a Menominee (12-2) drive in the red zone, the other put the Falcons into Maroon territory.

Neville (six receptions, 117 yards two touchdowns) was on the receiving end of two long throws by junior Gaetano Vallone that helped extend the lead to 23-0. Vallone, a three-year starter, also found Brett Meyers and Aaron Hall on long throws as the junior went 7-for-14 for 222 yards and four touchdowns for a comfortable 29-0 lead at the half.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a game like this. It feels real, real good to go out the way we did. In a youth championship game, I had a bad game when I was little, and I didn’t want to play like that ever again,” Vallone said.

“But it’s a team effort. It starts with my teammates pressuring the quarterback into bad throws, and guys running routes that allow me to get separation. That allowed me to play like I did today.”

Menominee’s day got worse in the second quarter as senior defensive tackle Jacob Peak suffered an injury. Peak lay motionless on the turf for over five minutes as the medical staff attended to him. Peak was taken off the field on a stretcher and he suffered an apparent lower leg injury.

“There was something with his tibia, but we’re still waiting for more information from doctors. It took a while to put on a splint around his leg since he’s a bigger kid. We wanted to make sure that was taken care of. Every precaution was taken care of for him,” Menominee coach Joe Noha said.

As West Catholic moved into Menominee territory, the Maroons defense stiffened and forced a field goal attempt. The attempt was blocked, and returned 76-yards by senior Hunter Hass for a touchdown, 29-7. It was the first time in final history a blocked kick was returned for a touchdown.

“We practiced all week on blocking kicks. I just wanted to get some momentum back for our team. I saw the open field and just ran my hardest. It’s kind of cool a record was set, but that wasn’t on my mind,” Hass said.

West Catholic finished the game with its first two rushing touchdowns. The first was a 5-yard touchdown run by Dom Stormant, and the other was by Vallone on a 37-yard keeper.

Vallone was 13 of 20 for 311 yards and had 13 carries for 83 yards.