Detroit — Nolan Fugate showed he could do more than just run with the ball Friday night, helping Grand Rapids Catholic Central repeat as state champions with a 42-31 victory over Edwardsburg in the Division 4 title game at Ford Field.
Fugate, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior running back, rushed for 306 yards (36 carries) to give him 3,004 for the season, and made multiple catches on third down to set up three TDs.
No play was bigger than Fugate’s 38-yard reception near the left sideline with just under 5 minutes left after Edwardsburg pulled within 35-31 following a pair of long TD runs.
On third and 28 from the GRCC 33, quarterback Jack Bowen scrambled left and threw one up for grabs and Fugate grabbed the ball with Caden Goggins defending, coming down with one foot inbounds at the 29.
Two plays later, Fugate scored on a 32-yard run to push the lead to 42-31 with 4 minutes left. It was his fourth rushing TD of the night and fifth overall.
“On the long third down, I just saw Jack just leave the pocket and I was running my route and knew I had to get open,” Fugate said. “I just kind of boxed my guy out, said 'Throw the ball' and just did my best to make a play on the ball and came down with it.
“I can’t put into words how special this is, I just love my teammates. It’s really special (306 yards rushing, 3,000-plus for season, consecutive state championships). I can’t thank my offensive line or my outside receivers enough because without them none of this would be possible. They are the best offensive line in the state.”
GRCC head coach Todd Kolster knew Fugate could come up with the pivotal catch.
“I talk to Jack all the time, just give our guys a chance and if you just give him a chance a lot of times they’re going to come down with it and he gave Nolan a chance and that was great quarterback play in my mind. He’s (Fugate) a great receiver, has great ball skills, just a great player.”
GRCC’s defense came up big too, stopping Tre’ Harvey behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth and 1 keeper at the GRCC 26 with 2 1/2 minutes left, ending Edwardsburg’s comeback bid while putting the final touches on a 14-0 season.
Fugate opened the scoring with a 20-yard TD reception, catching the screen pass from Bowen on third and 8 and breaking two tackles to reach the end zone with 5:53 left in the first quarter.
Edwardsburg (12-2) used a pair of big plays — a 55-yard TD run by Kyle Shrider, and a 64-yard TD run by Chase Sager — to open a 13-7 lead with 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
But, Fugate would answer, first busting loose for a 42-yard run to the 3 on fourth and 1 to set up a 1-yard TD to give the lead back to GRCC, 14-13 with 8:58 left in the half.
Then, on GRCC’s next series Fugate slipped through the line for 12 yards to the 47, followed by an impressive 20-yard run on which he carried multiple defenders with him for the final 5 yards of the play to the 33 with 15 yards tacked on due to a personal foul. Eric Grabow scored on a 14-yard run two plays later for a 21-13 halftime lead.
Fugate, who had 117 first-half yards on 14 carries, continued right where he left off to start the second half, grabbing a pass on third and 9 and turning it into a 26 yard gain to Edwardsburg’s 39. Bowen then found Nate Trudeau on the next play for 34 yards to the 5 to set up Fugate’s second rushing TD run for a 28-13 cushion with 8:31 left in the third.
Edwardsburg kept the pressure on when Goggins scored on a 99-yard kickoff return to cut the deficit to 28-19, but again Fugate would reach the end zone, this time on a 54-yard run for a 35-19 advantage midway through the third quarter.
Edwardsburg made things interesting when Shrider scored on a 78-yard TD run with 11:47 left to pull within 35-25, and his teammate Nick Bradley followed on the next possession with a 90-yard TD run to cut the deficit to 35-31 with 8:19 remaining.
Edwardsburg had time to work with, but still no answer to stop Fugate, who proved to be the difference.
“Nolan’s very good and he has a very good offensive line,” said Edwardsburg senior linebacker Chris Griffin. “Jalen Mayfield’s the best lineman I’ve ever played against.”
Mayfield, who will play next year at Michigan, nearly was in tears talking about his friendship with Fugate, who finished with 392 all-purpose yards and 30 points, and consecutive state championships.
“Most guys don’t get one chance (at a state title), let alone us to get two and we capitalized on it, all of the hard work in the weight room paid off,” Mayfield said. “Nolan’s been my best friend for four years and I can’t thank him enough. He’s a tremendous guy and we love every part of him.”