Grosse Pointe — Sheldon Cage plunged into the end zone from 3 yards out and the Grosse Pointe North fans stormed the field after a thrilling, two overtime, 26-23 victory at Grosse Pointe South on Friday night.
The game turned in the last 38 seconds of regulation when the senior quarterback for North (2-2, 1-1 MAC Blue), Bjorn Bjornsson engineered a six-play, 79-yard drive to put North into field goal position. All three throws went to Cage.
John Lizza converted with no time left, and the teams were headed to overtime.
“All I can say is that the kids never gave up,” North head coach Frank Sumbera said. “They played hard right from the beginning. We had the lead a couple times then they got it back, but we overcame it, kept going with it. We stuck to our guns, thought we could pass it. That’s why you work the 2-minute drill every week, and it sure paid off tonight because the kids did a great job with it. We did it with no timeouts. We got the ball spiked and dead and the main thing was getting it down with two seconds to go.”
Bjornsson finished with 260 yards throwing with one touchdown, going 8-for-25.
“He’s a three-year starter, and he’s played in this game three straight years,” Sumbera said. “We beat them last year in the rivalry game and I knew we could do it again. He just had to believe in himself and make better throws.
The teams traded field goals in the first overtime. In the second overtime South (3-2, 3-0 MAC White) hit a field goal first, and then Cage wrote himself into North lore with his third-down score.
“I’m still trying to grasp what just happened. I felt deep down it was going to happen,” Cage said. “I’m in shock, though. Probably when I wake up in the morning it will sink in. I knew I was going to get it. When I could see across the goal line my heart dropped. I couldn’t believe what we just did, how we marched down the field and how we came back.”
Cage, a big, bruising back, finished with 110 hard-earned yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns.
Defenses dominated the first quarter. Both teams were able to mount drives into enemy territory, but both drives ended in interceptions, and the first quarter ended knotted at zero.
In the second quarter, South tight end Riley Francis caught a Davis Graham pass but fumbled with North jumping on it at South’s 43 yard-line. On the next play, Cage stiff-armed his way into the end zone to open the scoring.
South answered on a trick play. Quarterback Davis Graham pitched it to receiver Jacob Hinkle who found a wide open Francis for a 54-yard touchdown.
After a Cameron Shook 42-yard field goal for South, the score was 10-7.
On North’s next possession, it was ready to punt, but a South facemask penalty extended its drive, and with 34 seconds left in the first half, Bjornsson scrambled out of pressure and heaved it to senior wide receiver Tyler Hill, who outjumped several South defenders for the score.
Junior Ka’Ron Henderson intercepted a pass for North on South’s next possession, and the first half ended 14-10 for North.
In the third quarter, North fumbled a snap and South took over at North’s 11-yard line. It took four downs, but senior running back Jermaine Young punched in a 4-yard score to give South a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
After a quick North drive, South’s Scott Rosati intercepted a Bjornsson prayer in the end zone and ignited the crowd.
North got the ball back with four minutes left at its own 20-yard line, but on the ensuing drive Rosati stepped in front of another Bjornsson pass to turn the ball back over to South, but South had to punt, setting up Bjornsson’s big drive.
Junior defensive lineman Ray Taylor was disruptive up front all night for South. He registered a sack and blunted many North runs.
The best of high school football rivalries was on display in Grosse Pointe. The home and away stands were packed, and fans lined the fence ringing the field. The estimated wait time at the concession stand was 45 minutes, even though many fans had been tailgating hours before kickoff. One of the loudest cheers from the home crowd was when South won the annual tug-of-war at haltime.
Last year, fans were treated to two editions of the North/South rivalry.
North won at home in the regular season, 8-4, in a physical, defensive battle, and it was slated to take on South again at home in the playoffs, but due to the girls soccer team violating MHSAA rules six months before, North wasn’t allowed to host playoff games in any sport, and North lost at South, 24-14.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.