MHSAA Division 5 State Championship: Grand Rapids West Catholic Fends Off Late Run By River Rouge
Grand Rapids West Catholic players sing the fight song after they defeated River Rouge 40-34 in their 2015 MHSAA Division 5 state final game at Ford Field in Detroit, Saturday, November 28, 2015.(Mike Mulholland |

DETROIT, Michigan -- It was a shootout victory for the Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons against the River Rouge Panthers. The 40-34 win crowned the Falcons the MHSAA Division 5 State Championship at Ford Field.

The first drive for Grand Rapids West Catholic was unsuccessful as Gaetano Vallone was intercepted on third-and-seven by Sam Neville, who returned it for 20 yards to the 49-yard line of River Rouge. The Panthers were not able to capitalize. 

On the ensuing drive for West Catholic looked like a scoring drive, but Dontize Sims slammed the door on Vallone as he could not score on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. 

As time was ticking towards the end of the first quarter, Grand Rapids West Catholic scored first on a 64-yard run by David Fox, who turned out to have an outstanding game. Fox added the extra point to make it a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

In the second quarter of action, both River Rouge and West Catholic swapped scores. The Panthers executed the first score of the quarter on an 11-yard connection between Antoine Burgess and Ashawnti Howard. With 2:33 left to play before halftime, West Catholic got the score back. Fox was at it again with a 38-yard rushing touchdown to give his team a 14-6 lead over the Panthers.

For the second time during the game, Burgess was intercepted. This time it was Connor Bolthouse for West Catholic who made the catch on second-and-nine on the Falcons 19-yard line. Vallone and the West Catholic offense could not get anything going down field as time expired to end the first half. 

Fox was the last to score before halftime and he was the first to score in the second half with carry for 12 yards into the end zone just 16 seconds into the third quarter. The shootout continued as Burgess hooked up with Aaron Vinson for a 63-yard touchdown with 3:56 left in the third quarter. 

Fox, a junior, carried the ball 10 times for 152 yards and three scores. He also completed a pass for 22 yards. Gaetano Vallone gained 136 yards on the ground and Denny Alt chipped in 83 for the Flacons. 

Vinson led the team with four receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown, while Turner was second with 95 receiving yards and a score in the loss. 

Believer it or not, the Falcons bounced back with under 20 seconds to go on nine-yard touchdown reception from Aaron Hall to pull his ahead by 14 points, 28-14. The back and forth scoring between Fox of West Catholic and Burgess of River Rouge set the tone for the second half. 

Burgess continued his career day with a one-yard carry up the middle to start a crazy fourth quarter for both dies. His touchdown cut the West Catholic lead to 28-21. 

The Falcons got a safety as Connor Nemmers sacked Burgess in the opposite end zone. West Catholic got the ball because of the safety and marked down the field, but the drive stalled and Liam Putz knocked down a 31-yard field goal to take a 33-21 lead with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter.

Giovanni Turner and Burgess bounced back on a 23-yard connection in the end zone to cut the West Catholic lead to five after Leonard Molette nailed the extra point for River Rouge with 3:36 left to play in the game. Just under two minutes later, Neville put the Falcons ahead 40-28 with a three-yard run that came as the game was winding down to the final stages. 

It seemed impossible that the Rouge offense would score again, but Burgess made it happen with his legs on a two-yard score with four seconds left. Down 40-34, River Rouge went for an onside kick, but it was recovered by Hall to end the game. 

Burgess had the game of his career completing 13-of-19 passes for 354 and three touchdowns, while adding 22 carries for 75 yards and two scores. Two early interceptions put the team in a hole early. 

Meanwhile, Vallone only threw for one West Catholic touchdown on 7-of-13 for 84 yards, but his team got the win, which is all that matters. Vallone targeted Conner Nemmers twice and Zach Zenner once for 29 yards.