At this point, there’s certainly nothing surprising about Grand Rapids West Catholic winning a state championship. After thrashing Menominee, 43-7, the Falcons have won four in a row and five this decade.
But Saturday’s Division 5 title was a bit different for the Falcons, who appeared to be stuck in fast-forward mode. They forced seven turnovers and had five touchdown drives that lasted one minute or less.
“We usually don’t operate like that,” said Sam Neville, who had two touchdown receptions and a pair of interceptions. “We try to burn a little bit of clock while still scoring and put points on the board, but we saw matchups with grass and space, especially when we spread the ball out and motioned out to it. We saw we had numbers advantage and grass advantage, so we took advantage of that early.”
When Menominee was driving for a score down 3-0, Neville got his first pick of the night at his own 7. Three plays later, Gaetano Vallone found Brett Meyers in the clear, and he took it up the left sideline for a 91-yard touchdown reception.
“I think it sparked us a little bit,” Meyers said. “Gaetano threw a bullet inside, a kid missed me. I think the community really rallies around big plays and we kept going. That’s what we can do when we have a spread offense. It just shows the playmakers we have.”
“I threaded the needle a little bit, but I guess I got another 50/50 ball that I can throw up there and I can trust my receivers to go up and get it,” said Vallone, who was 13-of-20 for 311 yards with four TDs. “We know we had the talent to win a state championship with all our weapons, our defense, our offense, we knew we had a dynamic team and we just had to play our game.”
After that, the floodgates opened. The Maroons coughed up the ball on their next play as Nathaniel Mitchell recovered a fumble at the 24. West Catholic went for it all on first down, as Vallone connected with Neville in the end zone.
After forcing Menominee into a three-and-out, the Falcons only needed three plays to tack on another score, with Vallone hitting Neville in stride up the left sideline. Neville reached out for the ball and turned on the jets after hauling it in, the play covering 61 yards to make it 23-0 three minutes into the second quarter.
Just 16 seconds before halftime — one play after Neville’s second interception — it was 29-0 as Vallone found Aaron Hall from 26 yards away.
At the end of the third quarter, Jason Sironen recovered another fumble at midfield, and it only took the Falcons three plays to make it 43-7, as Vallone ran 37 yards up the middle to paydirt.
Menominee scored four minutes into the second half, after a blocked field goal attempt was returned 76 yards by Hunter Hass.
This was the seventh season in a row that West Catholic has ended the Maroons’ season with a loss. Menominee is 1-7 all-time against the Falcons, 54-11 against all other schools in the Lower Peninsula.