Warren De La Salle reigns supreme in Prep Bowl

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News
Warren De La Salle running back Evan Vaillancourt (22) is congratulated by quarterback Luke Pfromm (11) after Vaillancourt ran for a touchdown against Detroit Catholic Central in the second quarter.

Beating a crosstown rival to clinch a playoff berth is sweet. Beating them again the following week in the 2017 Prep Bowl Final at Ford Field to put their postseason fate in the hands of a selection committee? Well, that’s even sweeter.

Just ask Warren De La Salle, who emerged victorious in its matchup with Detroit Catholic Central for the second week in a row, this time taking home a piece of hardware as a 35-14 victory earned the school its third Prep Bowl Championship in 90 years of the school’s football program. 

Parallels from the matchup that preceded the Prep Bowl Final were certainly there: De La Salle’s offensive line gave little wiggle room to Marco Genrich and the Catholic Central; Jacob Badalamenti was spectacular; and after each team had a touch, it looked like the crowd was in for a tightly contested matchup.

However, during the matchup at Ford Field, De La Salle presented a much different offensive identity — one with spunk, one with aggression, one that wasn’t afraid to air it out on second-and-6 because it was almost a foregone conclusion the team would successfully rush for a first down the following play. 

Luckily for quarterback Luke Promff, he rarely had to work under those conditions. He was impressive too, and not just when he was throwing to Badalamenti. The senior amassed 331 yards through the air, 205 on his four touchdown passes. 

“Luke can throw it,” De La Salle head coach Mike Giannone said. “It’s part of our game that we hadn’t shown a lot of, and I think come playoff time you have to have all the mentions so that you can compete with some of the real good teams like Catholic Central.” 

After a 78-yard opening drive that wiped nearly six minutes off the clock to tie the game at 7-7, Pfromm nailed down a plan of attack that perfectly countered a strong pressure from Catholic Central’s front four: Become more of a threat outside the pocket than he was inside it. 

And it worked to perfection.

Of his four touchdown passes, two of them left his hand as he was streaking toward the sideline with a mob of white jerseys hot on his tail.

“Luke Pfromm’s got the greatest arm in the state,” Badalamenti said. “He’s the best quarterback in the state.”

But Pfromm will be the first to tell you he couldn’t do it on his own. “Those guys are sure-handed, they run great routes, they get open, they’re smart, so it’s easy to just drop back there and find the open guy,” he said. 

In turn, Catholic Central were victims of an unusual De La Salle scheme that left its players chasing Badalamenti, Evan Vaillancourt and Joshua DeBerry into the end zone. 

“Coming into the game I thought it would be more smash mouth, head-to-head, runs, but they have a great defense so we spread them out and it worked,” Pfromm said. 

Meanwhile, De La Salle’s defensive line was nailing down a stout plan of attack. Catholic Central took a 7-0 lead on a 10-play opening drive, and it looked like they’d finally figured out how to move the ball against De La Salle’s defense as Genrich marched into the end zone on a 4-yard scamper to make open up a 7-0 lead. 

That’s where the fun stopped.

De La Salle went on to give up just 53 yards to Catholic Central starters following the scoring drive, and Genrich finished 5-of-10 with 24 yards through the air. 

Giannone praised his defensive coaches for their ability to adjust on the fly.

“They were gashing us a little bit on the iso. They did a nice job of preparing for how they were going to attack,” Giannone said before praising his coaches for the defensive adjustments. 

De La Salle coupled its great passing game with a steady diet of inside rushing. Cordell Tannyhill rushed for 82 yards on 13 carries. Vaillancourt had nine carries, including a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 21-7.

Catholic Central must wait until 7 p.m. on Sunday to find out if it has made the state playoffs.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer