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West Catholic ties record with 5th straight title, defeats Swan Valley, 34-7, in D5 final

By: Tom Markowski, November 25, 2017, 7:55 pm

Detroit – Move over East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison. You’ve got company.

The program at Grand Rapids West Catholic has become a mini-dynasty recently. The Falcons defeated Saginaw Swan Valley, 34-7, in the Division 5 final on Saturday at Ford Field to become the third team to win five consecutive Michigan High School Athletic Association titles.

Harrison won its five straight title in Class A/Division 3 (1997-2001). East Grand Rapids strung its five titles, all in Division 3, from 2006-10.

West Catholic also won the 2010 Division 5 title and reached the final in 2012.

On the other end, this was the first final for Swan Valley (12-2).

Senior Gaetano Vallone became the first Grand Rapids area quarterfinal to start in three consecutive state championship games. Travis Smith of Ithaca also accomplished this feat (2011-13) in Division 6.

Vallone threw two touchdown passes in the first half, 32 yards to Zack Lee and 28 yards to Jack Schichtel, to lead the Falcons to a 24-0 lead at halftime.

Swan Valley was held to 110 yards in the first half and West Catholic’s defense also produced a touchdown as Zaavon Scott returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown.

“I’m proud of the way our guys came out and seized the moment,” West Catholic coach Joe Hyland said. “We’re well aware of the history. But I’m happy the (with) the way we came out focused.

“Two things about (the streak). Everyone one of us is proud to be a part of the tradition. Without question we are very proud. At the same time this game is contained. It has nothing to do with last year.

“Experience has been a big advantage for us.”   

Vallone was on in this game. He was 10-of-14 passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He had 17 carries for 60 yards and one touchdown.

West Catholic (12-2) punted twice and gained 296 yards to 265 for Swan Valley.

Turnovers proved to be a factor. West Catholic had none and the Falcons intercepted three passes, tow by Scott.

West Catholic led 34-0 before Brock Leinberger (10 carries, 67 yards) scored on a 10-yard run on the last play of the third quarter.

“That one kind of got away from us a little bit,” Swan Valley coach Kevin Gavenda said. “That’s not who we are.

“Vallone) can do a little bit of everything. He can run the ball and he can pass the ball. He’s been in the system for three years. He knows that system.

“We started six juniors on defense and six on offense. We’re excited about our future. This program isn’t going anywhere.”

Vallone completed a remarkable career at West Catholic and is well aware of what he and his teammates have accomplished.

“We work hard every day,” he said. “To be the only Grand Rapids (area) quarterback to accomplish that, I’m very proud of. The experience helped me a lot. Ford Field is a big stage.”