Detroit – It was a game that featured two schools with drastically different football legacies.
Grand Rapids West Catholic was looking for a three-peat in Division 5, while River Rouge was making its first appearance in an MHSAA football final.
West Catholic players knew they had a lot on their shoulders.
"The expectation is higher for us to go out there and get another one," West Catholic Sam Neville said. "Anything less than a state championship is a disappointment."
David Fox scored on runs of 64, 38 and 12 yards as West Catholic's experience proved too much, winning its third title in a row with a hard-fought 40-34 victory over River Rouge.
River Rouge's first drive ended when West Catholic's Neville intercepted an Antoine Burgess pass on third down.
West Catholic (12-2) took advantage of the good field position and drove 48-yards down to the 1-yard line, before being stopped on fourth-and-inches by River Rouge.
On West Catholic's next drive, they got on the board after Fox broke through a hole in the line and beat everybody and ran 64-yards for the touchdown with just under a minute left in the first quarter.
Fox finished with 152 rushing yards along with his three TDs.
River Rouge (12-2) finally got going thanks to a 43-yard pass play from Burgess to Aaron Vinson early in the second quarter that took it down to the West Catholic 12.
Burgess found Ashawnti Howard for an 11-yard scoring play, but the two-point conversion attempt failed.
Burgess threw for 354 yards, which is the second highest ever in an MHSAA final. He also had three touchdowns, and rushed for 75 yards and two more scores.
"It was difficult to prepare for their speed. It's hard to simulate that," West Catholic head coach Dan Rohn said. "There were a lot of times I thought we had an opportunity to make a big play, but out of nowhere their kids would run us down."
West Catholic's experience in big games began to show, as 16 seconds into the second half it extended the lead, on another Fox touchdown run, this one from 12 yards to make it 21-6 and it looked like they were going to run away and hide.
"I don't discredit what we were doing, but I credit a lot what they were doing," River Rouge coach Corey Parker said. "They were doing an awesome job creating some issues up front.
"We had to make some adjustments to our pass blocking schemes."
Burgess once again found Vinson, this time for a 63-yard touchdown pass with just under four minutes left in the third. The two-point conversion pulled River Rouge within seven, 21-14.
Gaetano Vallone 9-yard TD pass to Aaron Hall with 14 seconds left in the third restored West Catholic's 14-point lead.
Blake Meakin is a freelance writer.