Detroit — Caden Prieskorn had a right to be at a loss for words after helping Orchard Lake St. Mary’s pull out a thrilling 29-28 victory over No. 6 Muskegon in the final seconds of the MHSAA Division 3 championship game Saturday night at Ford Field.
After all, the title game had three lead changes in the final five minutes with the final one coming on his 18-yard touchdown toss to childhood friend Ky’ren Cunningham with four seconds left.
By the way, Cunningham lined up at receiver on the play for the first time since the season opener.
Oh, the drama.
It all started out when kicker Ben Fee booted a state-title-game-record 49-yard field goal with 4:47 left to give St. Mary's a short-lived 23-21 lead.
Muskegon (12-2) quickly came back, led by a 49-yard kickoff return to midfield. Ladarius Jefferson threw a 26-yard pass to Virginia Tech-bound Kalil Pimpleton to the 28. Jefferson then ran for 21 yards before scoring on a 3-yard run with 1:55 remaining.
But Prieskorn wouldn’t flinch. Instead, he went to work, leading St. Mary's on an 80-yard, nine-play drive, capped off by the TD toss to Cunningham which will be talked about for decades to come by St. Mary's fans.
“This is crazy, man,” Prieskorn said. “I’ve played with Ky'ren ever since I was a little kid. I knew if I just threw it up to him that he’d make a play. This is just crazy. I knew he was going to catch it. I just knew it.”
OLSM (10-4) is not known for its passing game, but Prieskorn — a transfer from Lake Orion — was on the mark with the ultimate trophy on the line. He connected on 13 of 21 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, including a 30-yarder to Clay Antishin with 35 seconds left in the half to pull St. Mary's within 14-13.
Still, it was the winning drive that was so special. Prieskorn found Cunningham on a third-and-five play for a first down at the Muskegon 29. Then Prieskorn ran for another first down on third-and-three from the 22 to set up the score.
Cunningham couldn’t stop smiling.
“The guy overplayed the ball, I came back, went up for it, grabbed it, came down and didn’t see any flags,” he said.
“I’ve been working with Caden — a lot of people don’t know but I’ve been working with Caden since first grade when we played for the Rochester Redskins. I’ve been working with him since first grade, this is just like old things that we used to do: play catch.
“This is crazy, never in a million years did I think I’d make that catch. I’m usually at running back. Coaches never asked me to go out there in pistol and just be a wide receiver and go and get the ball. I never thought that I’d make that catch.”
St. Mary's coach George Porritt had high praise for Prieskorn.
“He’s just been getting better every week and the hard thing with Caden I don’t always throw the ball,” Porritt said. “We started throwing the ball a little bit in the playoffs and he’s made a lot of throws.”
No doubt, Prieskorn was special, but Fee was also impressive throughout, kicking field goals of 32 and 35 yards in the first half.
Fee’s 49-yarder was set up by a 17-yard pass from Prieskorn to Josh Walls on a third-and-six play to the St. Mary's 41, then a 16-yard toss to Antishin to the Muskegon 32.
OLSM junior running back Rashawn Allena also contributed a strong effort, rushing for 136 yards on 25 carries, 34 coming on the final drive to give him a school-record 2,131 yards on the season.
The St. Mary's defense played a major role in the comeback, as well.
First, Western Michigan-bound linebacker Dwayne Chapman made a big hit on running back Aaron Ward for no gain late in the first half, then Shermond Dabney intercepted a pass and returned it to the Muskegon 30, setting up Prieskorn’s 30-yard TD pass to Antishin.
Muskegon came out sharp and ready to play with Pimpleton, an all-state quarterback/slot receiver, starting at quarterback and directing a 70-yard, six-play drive just two minutes into the game. He scored on an 18-yard run.
Then, Jefferson took his turn, leading an 80-yard, seven-play drive and scoring on a 4-yard run for a 14-3 lead with 8:30 left in the half. He set up the score with a 59-yard pass to Pimpleton on a third-and-seven play.
Antishin, who had 14 catches all season, had three for 70 yards in the opening half alone and finished with six receptions for 103 yards. Cunningham rushed for 46 yards on 15 carries and had three receptions for 29, none bigger than his last.
Five champs start 5-4
St. Mary's is one of five teams to win a state title after entering postseason play at 5-4:
1999 – Farmington Hills Harrison – defeated Grand Rapids Creston, 42-35 in Division 3
2011 – Birmingham Brother Rice – defeated Lowell, 24-14 in Division 2
2011 – Flint Powers – defeated Lansing Catholic, 56-26 in Division 5
2013 – Grand Rapids West Catholic – defeated Menominee, 27-14 in Division 5
2016 – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – defeated Muskegon, 29-28 in Division 3