Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield.
DETROIT (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Al Fracassa's final game as head coach at Birmingham Brother Rice began as a first-half shootout Friday afternoon at Ford Field against Muskegon.
However, his defense put the clamps on Muskegon in the final 24 minutes as Fracassa captured his ninth state title, third straight Division 2 crown and 430th victory, 38-21.
"If I was younger I'd still be out there," said Fracassa, who had his first undefeated season since 1983. "It's time. I have great coaches. They coached and I did the yelling.
"I knew we had a great defense. We made some adjustments in the second half. Winning three in a row is awesome. I learned that word from the kids."
Rice junior quarterback Alex Malzone riddled the Muskegon defense, completing his first nine passes. He finished 20 of 24 for 263 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target was Corey Lacanaria, who caught 10 for 125 yards and a touchdown.
"I know I had great receivers going into the game and our line played great," said Malzone. "I was able to spread the ball around and we had a great day offensively. We knew we had back-to-back state championships coming in, and this being Coach Fracassa's last year. To get him a third straight one meant a lot to us and to him. Great coach, great man. The best coach I ever had."
Muskegon featured senior quarterback Deshaun Thrower, dodging Rice defenders as if they were tackling dummies with his speed and shiftiness in the first half. Thrower also completed an 86-yard TD pass to Justin Foster in the second half, the longest touchdown reception in Division 2 history. He finished with 99 yards rushing, a reduced total due to sacks, and 183 passing.
The teams combined for 478 yards in the first half with Rice leading, 21-14, at halftime.
Jason Alessi scored the first points of the second half with a 36-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter.
Muskegon then committed the game's first turnover with 11:07 to go when Jack Grisan stripped the ball from Thrower with Shaun Jones Jr. recovering at the Big Reds' 21.
On the first play from scrimmage, Malzone hit Lacanaria in stride for a 21-yard TD pass to increase the lead to 31-14. Malzone also scored, untouched, from 17 yards out on a fake field goal with 4:33 to play to make it 38-14.
He also threw three touchdown passes in the first half, a 16-yard strike to Damaris Woods, a laser from 34 yards out to Grant Perry, who made a spectacular one-handed catch, and another one to Perry with 67 seconds left in the half.
"They played back, so we went short routes and caught the ball short and made the first guy miss," said Perry. "That opened up our run game."
The Big Reds responded by using a 46-yard run by Tavon Jackson to set up Thrower's six-yard TD run. Weaving his way around the Rice defense, Thrower scored his second touchdown on a 16 yard run to tie the game at 14. Thrower rushed for 117 yards on 12 carries in the first half.
"This is something I'm not going to get used to, being the first interview on the losing side," said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield. "I'm going to go back and evaluate what we're doing wrong in the championship game. It's my responsibility and duty to put these kids in the right position and give them a better chance to win a state championship."
BY PERRY A. FARRELL - DETROIT FREE PRESS