Detroit — Grant Perry changed the momentum of the Catholic League opener between No. 3 Birmingham Brother Rice and No. 7 Warren DeLaSalle on Friday night at Adams Field with a long punt return midway through the second quarter, sparking Rice to a 28-21 victory.
DeLaSalle (3-1, 0-1 Central) was controlling the line of scrimmage against the defending Division 2 state champions, holding a 7-0 lead and driving for what seemed like another score.
On a third-and-2 from the Brother Rice 33, Allen Stritzinger ran for a first down, but a holding call forced DeLaSalle to punt on the next play.
Perry gathered in the punt at his 12 and broke loose to the Brother Rice 47, giving Michigan-bound quarterback Alex Malzone a short field to work with.
At that juncture of the game, DeLaSalle had a 29-9 advantage in plays — Brother Rice (4-0, 1-0) was without a first down —and 168-13 margin in total yards.
Then, Malzone ran for 18 yards, hooked up with Perry for a 20-yard gain to the 6 and found John Garry for a 6-yard TD toss to pull Brother Rice even with 1:32 left in the half.
"I think we needed a boost and I think my play started it a bit," said Perry. "We planned on them not kicking to us and I got the opportunity."
The return haunted DeLaSalle for the rest of the game.
DeLaSalle had drives stall at the Brother Rice 47 and 40 in the second half, punting the ball away from Perry, but giving the ball back to Malzone and company at the Rice 37 and 40.
Yes, just punts of net yardage of 10 and … 0.
And, Brother Rice took advantage of the short fields both times. First, Malzone found Michael Roney for a 12-yard TD pass for a 14-7 lead, then Malzone hooked up with Garry for a 13-yard score for a 21-14 cushion.
"I think them being scared to punt it definitely helped us because their punter didn't get a good punt off and it gave us great field position," said Perry who grabbed seven passes for 105 yards.
"The punts killed us," DeLaSalle coach Paul Verska said.
Oh, and DeLaSalle helped Brother Rice on the winning drive as well, getting two personal foul penalties for 30 yards after Malzone connected with Perry on a 10-yard pass to push the ball to the 36 with five minutes left in a 21-21 game.
Then, Malzone found Roney for a 31-yard pass to set up Bobby Dixon's 1-yard TD run on fourth down with 2:07 left.
"On that play I was nervous about catching the ball, then running in," Dixon said of taking the fourth-down pitch from Malzone. "I knew if I just went to the outside and followed my blockers I could get in.
"They were putting pressure on Malzone all game and that's what they said they'd do. Their guys are big and good, but we got our passes off and sooner or later it paid off."
DeLaSalle held a 367-218 advantage in total yards, 65-40 in plays.
Malzone was 14-of-20 for 203 yards and 3 TDs.
Still, DeLaSalle had one more chance to win the game or force overtime, driving to Rice's 20, but Joey Garbarino's fourth-down pass was dropped with 30 seconds left.
"It was a hostile environment and we played a heck of a team," said Rice first-year head coach Dave Sofran, who earned his first Catholic League win. "I liked how our kids responded in the second half."
Garbarino was 11-of-23 for 176 yards, connecting with Myles Charley seven times for 134 yards, including twice on fourth down plays.
DeLaSalle took a 7-0 lead on an impressive 18-play, 79-yard drive with Garbarino doing damage with his arm and legs. He connected with Charley for a 15-yard gain on third down, then found Charley again for 11 yards to Brother Rice's 27 on a fourth down play, leading to Stritzinger's 9-yard TD run.
Midway through the third, Garbarino hit Charley with a pass in the left flat and Charley turned it into a 55-yard gain to the Brother Rice 6. Stritzinger scored on a 4-yard run two plays later to pull even at 14.
Garbarino and Charley weren't done.
They would again hook up in the fourth quarter to pull DeLaSalle even at 21 with 5:52 left, this time on a 19-yard pass coming on fourth-and-13.