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Division 6 final: Monroe CC halts Ithaca's title run

By Geoff Robinson, Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — As Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central tight end Travis Vuich walked in to speak with the media alongside his teammates and coach, he whispered to linebacker David Howey, "This is unreal."

What was unreal is that Vuich and his teammates had just ended Ithaca's 69-game win streak and run of four consecutive championships in a thrilling 22-12 state Division 6 championship game Friday at Ford Field.

With 1:41 remaining , John Lako burst in from the 3-yard line, sealing the championship.

"It was just awesome," said Lako, who opened the scoring on a 2-yard run in the first quarter. "I just celebrated with my teammates and everything we worked for was finally coming together. It wasn't about me. It was about everyone and it was awesome."

Setting the tone early, Catholic Central (13-1) went on a 17-play drive that took them 60 yards and bled 11:15 off the clock to start the game on Lako's first TD. Catholic Central had an 8-0 lead with the two-point conversion.

"We like to receive the ball first," Catholic Central coach Jack Giarmo said. "The whole season, except for one game, we received the ball and drove down to score. It's a momentum thing for us."

After a three-and-out on its first possession, Ithaca would drive 50 yards and score when quarterback Jake Smith found Spence DeMull for an 11-yard touchdown. The two-point try failed. .

Late in the second quarter, Ithaca had forced another Catholic Central punt. Tyler Spitzley fielded the kick before being hit by Troy Hilkens, who forced the ball loose. Vuich was the lucky recipient of the bouncing ball as he scooped it and took it 19 yards for a touchdown that stretched the lead to 15-6.

"It was a great feeling," Vuich said. "The ball just popped up and I returned it."

Ithaca (13-1) had an answer.

Getting the ball back with 3:19 before halftime, Ithaca drove 61 yards. They picked up big chunks before Smith ran the ball in from two yards out. After a missed extra point, the teams went into the break with Catholic Central leading 15-12.

The defenses would rule the second half.

Ithaca would put up 103 yards in the third and fourth quarters, while Catholic Central was limited to just 71.

When Ithaca was finally able to drive deep into Catholic Central territory (19-yard-line), they called a trick play on third down where Smith pitched the ball to DeMull and DeMull threw to the end zone, only to be picked off by Bryce Windham.

When asked if he regretted the play, "absolutely not," Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook said.

"We don't look back. We only look forward. It was a play we thought we had a chance to hit, and if it's thrown a little deeper, it's a touchdown."

With 2:46 remaining and down 15-12, Smith had a chance to drive downfield for what would be a game-winning score and a fifth straight title.

Starting out at his own 20-yard-line, Smith was sacked for a 12-yard loss on second down before being picked off by Darius Marks, who returned it to the 5 to set up Lako's second score.

The streak came to an end.

"I was very proud of my team today. I was proud of their effort," Hessbrook said.

"As a coach, when you go into this, all you ask is that your players play as hard as they can. A lot of people thought we were outmanned today, up against it, but they can't measure the size of these guys' hearts."

Ithaca outgained Catholic Central 262-182, including 147-71 passing. The loss left Ithaca just three wins shy of a 39-year-old state record of 72 straight victories held by Hudson.

The championship is the second in Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central history (1991). It was the school's first appearance in the title game since 2010, when it lost to Ithaca in the first of its four straight title wins.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer

Saturday's games

Division 7: Ishpeming vs. Detroit Loyola, 10 a.m.

Division 1: Clarkston vs. Saline, 1 p.m.

Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic vs. Lansing Catholic, 4:30 p.m.

Division 3: Muskegon vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's, 7:30 p.m.