Berkley — After saying all week it wanted another shot at its division rival, Warren De La Salle used a big second half to swing the momentum of the game and hand Birmingham Brother Rice its first defeat in more than two years, 26-21, in a Division 2 regional final Saturday.
Thanks to a few self-inflicted wounds, De La Salle (9-3) fell 28-21 to its Catholic League Central Division rival in the final moments of a September game. This time around, with Brother Rice threatening to pull out another victory at the very end, De La Salle made the big plays to finish the game.
After star receiver Grant Perry caught his third touchdown catch of the day to help Brother Rice pull within five with 2:06 remaining, he recovered an onside kick in De La Salle territory to set up a nail-biting finish.
Two completions later, Brother Rice was inside the 35-yard line. But a holding penalty brought the ball back to the 45, and a De La Salle pass interference penalty negated an interception return by Tru Wilson, setting up second-and-10. After an incomplete pass, Ryan Smith sacked Brother Rice quarterback Alex Malzone for a 13-yard loss to set up fourth-and-23 with the clock running. Wilson then batted down a Hail Mary pass to the end zone for Perry.
"That might've been the best defensive game we've played all season," Wilson said. "We worked so much in practice. It's hard to match the talent they have, but we had a great defensive effort today."
"We got what we deserved this time," De La Salle quarterback Joey Garbarino said. "We thought we got a little unlucky with our last performance, but this time we did what needed to be done."
Garbarino accounted for all four De La Salle touchdowns, throwing for two and rushing for two, including what proved to be the winner.
With his team up 20-14, Garbarino dropped back on third down, saw his receivers covered, put his head down, juked a defender, then knifed his way to the end zone for a 13-yard score that pushed the lead to 26-14.
"He's a gutsy kid," De La Salle coach Paul Verska said. "I can't say enough about our kids. They did a great job battling back."
Brother Rice (11-1) led the game 14-6 at halftime thanks to a big defensive play at the end of the first half. With De La Salle driving into Brother Rice territory, Joseph Lewandowski intercepted Garbarino at the 1-yard line to preserve his team's lead.
But when the second half started, De La Salle struck quickly as Garbarino hit Allen Stritzinger for a 74-yard touchdown. Garbarino had faked a quarterback draw when he pulled up and found his running back wide open in the middle of the field.
On the ensuing Brother Rice possession, a deflected pass led to a Wilson interception, which he returned 40 yards to the Brother Rice 2. Garbarino ran it in from there to give De La Salle a 20-14 lead.
"I felt like we had the momentum in the first half," Brother Rice coach Dave Sofran said. "The interception and quick touchdown turnaround really hurt us."
Brother Rice got off to a quick start in the first half when Malzone found Perry in the end zone on back-to-back possessions to take a 14-0 lead.
Garbarino answered by hitting Myles Charley on a 32-yard touchdown pass, and a blocked extra point made it 14-6.
The loss ended Brother Rice's 33-game winning streak and its run at a fourth straight state championship.
With 16 catches for 199 yards and three scores, Perry finished the 2014 season with 105 receptions, a new Michigan High School Athletic Association record.
"I give our kids a lot of credit," Sofran said. (They) never stopped fighting."
Malzone, a Michigan commit, completed 23 of 40 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns in his final game at Brother Rice. He threw one interception.
De La Salle next faces Southfield (9-3) in a state semifinal, the date and site to be determined.
Orchard Lake St. Mary 49, Mason 10: TJ Bauer had 12 carries for 164 yards and three TD's and Brendan Tabone went 8-for-8 for 161 yards and two TD's for St. Mary's (10-2).
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer. Detroit News staff contributed.