The Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars brought their 36-game winning streak to Ford Field on Saturday for the Division 5 State Championship game. Standing in their path of a repeat title in Division 5, and a third consecutive title overall, were the Marine City Mariners. A team with a history of spoiling Grand Rapids area team’s bids for State Championships, Marine City stunned South Christian in 2013, the Mariners put up a strong fight early on Saturday afternoon. The Cougars’ defense pitching a shutout in the second half helped them capture a 31-7 victory and yet another State Championship.
GRCC started with the football at their own 28 yard line. They converted a pair of third downs, moving the ball down the field into Mariners territory. Their third third-down encounter resulted in an incomplete pass. This forced GRCC Head Coach Todd Kolster to send out his kicker, John Meyer, who booted a 29-yard field goal straight through the uprights for the game’s opening points.
Marine City’s ensuing drive start with some promise, but Jack Cook pried the ball free, and John Passinault pounced on it. The Cougars could not capitalize with a four-and-out turnover on downs. Marine City would quickly punt the ball back, ending the first quarter.
In the second frame, the Cougars found the end zone. A 10-play, 62-yard drive resulted in a 2-yard plunge by Jack Rellinger. This scoring play came on the third third-down of the drive, advancing the lead to 10 points with nine minutes to play before halftime.
Not to be phased by the defending champs, Marine City answered back with a touchdown march of their own. The Mariners took 11 plays to find the end zone, the final of which came on a 3-yard pass from Jeffery Heaslip to Charles Tigert. This score brought Marine City back within three, 10-7, a lead that would hold into and after the halftime break.
The second half was all Grand Rapids Catholic Central. It was a slow start that saw the Cougars defense repeatedly stall Marine City. The Cougars would break off a touchdown play, a 59-yard strike on a pass from Passinault to Nolan Ziegler.
Trailing by ten, Marine City tried to rally the offensive troops, but they could not get it done. The Cougars defense was a stone wall throughout the second half. After the first punt by the Mariners, Passinault added another score with a 17-yard ball to Ziegler. This gave GR Catholic Central a commanding 24-7 lead with eight minutes to go.
Disaster struck for Marine City on the ensuing possession, as they put the football on the turf. Jack Klafeta forced the fumble, scooped it up, and raced 34 yards to the end zone, effectively icing the State championship.
GRCC narrowly edged out Marine City 228-215 in total yardarge. Two fumbles were crucial for Marine City in this title match. John Passinault completed 15/28 passes for 221 yards and two scores. Nolan Ziegler paced the receiving room with 136 yards, seven catches and two touchdowns.
This is a historic run for this Cougar program. Not only do they become State Champions for the third year in a row, and the fifth time in six seasons, they now have 37 consecutive victories, the longest active streak in thee MHSAA. There are only five streaks longer in MHSAA history, including a state-record 72 game streak by the Hudson Hornets between 1968-1875. Next fall, the Cougars will look to join an even more elite group of teams with State Championships in four consecutive seasons.