Detroit — Warren De La Salle saved its best for last, putting on a dominating performance Friday afternoon at Ford Field in a 41-6 victory over Livonia Franklin in the Division 2 state championship game.
It was the largest margin of victory in a Division 2 final since De La Salle defeated Muskegon Mona Shores 44-8 in 2014.
De La Salle (12-2) – the Catholic League champions, ranked No. 7 in The News Super 20 poll - scored early and often, scoring 16 seconds into the game when a high snap from center slithered through the hands of Franklin sophomore quarterback Jacob Kelbert and over his head on the first play from scrimmage. Senior safety Brendan Madigan scooped up the loose ball and ran 13 yards for a touchdown.
“It kind of defines our season, some of the things we’ve done this year,” said De La Salle second-year coach Mike Giannone, who won consecutive Division 1 state championships with Macomb Dakota in 2006 and ’07. “We’ve made some plays defensively, put pressure on people and one of our coaches said, ‘You put pressure and the pipes burst.’”
The opening-play fumble would be the first of three first-half turnovers by Franklin (11-3) with De La Salle capitalizing with TDs each time to take a commanding 38-0 advantage while putting the running clock into play.
The pipes burst again and again for Franklin and that’s the last thing Kelbert, a 15-year-old sophomore quarterback who was playing on the freshman team last year, needed to happen.
Madigan was a member of De La Salle’s state championship team in ‘14, wanting desperately to make some plays to get the chance to hold the ultimate trophy one more.
“I had the honor of being on the field as a freshman when we won it in 2014, got to see those guys, see what it’s like and ever since then I made a promise to myself that I’d do my best to bring all my guys back here and win it again so it feels great,” said Madigan, who then talked of his early TD.
“I saw the ball go over his (Kelbert) head so I knew immediately I had to scoop it up, and it bounced good and I got to pick it up and run it in and (defensive back) Jacob Dobbs even helped me get in by carrying me a little bit. It felt great to start the game out with points.”
Franklin had the chance to pull even and gain momentum, but it didn’t happen with its 75-yard drive stalling when on fourth-and-goal from the 7. The 18-play drive — which consumed 9 minutes, 5 seconds — ended when tight end Matt Elrod failed to come up with a one-handed catch in the end zone off a Kelbert pass.
Attempting a field goal never crossed Franklin head coach Chris Kelbert's mind.
“No, field goals weren’t going to beat that team,” said Kelbert, who's the father of Jacob. “We had an opportunity to score a touchdown and that’s been our best play all year.”
De La Salle would move the ball the entire length of the field, aided with some luck when on third-and-6 from the 11, Luke Pfromm’s pass went off the hands of Cordell Tannyhill and into the hands of tight end Blaine Flanigan for a first down at the 22.
Then, Pfromm found Evan Vaillancourt for a 60-yard TD pass to open up a 14-0 lead with 11:02 left in the half to end the 93-yard drive.
De La Salle would force its second turnover when Josh DeBerry intercepted Kelbert’s overthrown pass and return it 31 yards to the 4 to set up Pfromm’s 2-yard TD run for a 21-0 lead.
Franklin’s nightmare first half didn’t end. A fumble on the exchange between Kelbert and running back Isaac Moore led to a fumble recovery by De La Salle's Mike McGinnity at the Franklin 14, which set up Pfromm’s 4-yard TD pass to Sergio Gasperoni for a 28-0 cushion with 6:38 left in the half.
It wasn’t done in the second quarter, scoring 31 points — just four points shy of the state finals record scored in a single quarter held by Jackson Lumen Christi (35) back in 2001.
De La Salle showed its ability to score on long drives.
Pfromm directed a four-play, 70-yard drive for a 35-0 lead, finding Vaillancourt for a 46-yard pass on the first play, then running for 19 yards two plays later to set up Tannyhill’s 2-yard TD run. Riley Garrison kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 38-0 lead as time expired in the second quarter.
So, how was De La Salle’s offense capable of a 31-point quarter?
“We just executed,” said Giannone of De La Salle’s spread T offense. “We have guys who can make plays. I would say that he (Pfromm) was on and I think that some of things that we do, play-action passing and some of the deep balls, other things he can see (plays to his strengths). He’s developed into a real fine quarterback and I know someone out there is going to get a steal.”
De La Salle continued its strong defensive effort when linebacker Devin Campbell stuffed Moore for a four-yard loss on a third-down screen play to force a punt.
De La Salle moved from its own 40 with Pfromm finding Vaillancourt for 34 yards to reach the Franklin 20, ultimately leading to Riley Garrison’s 23-yard field goal for a 38-0 lead as time expired.
That’s right, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Pfromm found Vaillancourt for a long pass play on three scoring drives.
“He’s sure-handed and he gets open so it’s easy for me to find him,” said Pfromm of Vaillancourt. “Obviously, the result (of playing senior year) was great, but I’ll never forget the experience, the whole year we had each other’s back. It’s like a brotherhood on this team, so it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Pfromm completed 7-of-9 passes for 182 yards and 2 TDs during that first half show, also running for 21 yards and a TD. He connected with Vaillancourt three times for 140 yards.
Franklin advanced inside De La Salle territory on the first drive of the second half, but on fourth and 8 from the 46 Kelbert was rushed out of the pocket and tackled at the 45.
Garrison kicked his second field goal, a 30-yarder early in the fourth to push the lead to 41-0 before Franklin got on the board with Moore’s 5-yard TD with 9:25 left which was set up by his own 72-yard run.
Moore finished with 160 yards (23 carries).
“Our kids battled all year long and I’m super proud of them,” Kelbert said. “We knew going in that we couldn’t give them extra opportunities and that’s kind of what we did in the first half. The momentum never got on our side.”