Division 8: Reading downs Breckenridge for first state title in school history
Detroit — Caleb Miller brought the defense. Ethan LoPresto and Hunter Midtgard brought the offense.
And Reading brought home its first state championship in school history on Friday with a 39-20 victory over Breckenridge in the Division 8 final at Ford Field.
Reading (14-0) gave up less than a yard per carry on the ground, allowed Breckenridge (13-1) to gain just 199 total yards and made 10 tackles-for-loss.
After the win, Reading head coach Rick Bailey praised his defense's tenacity.
"I'll be honest with you, it's not the Xs and Os, it's the Jimmys and Joes," Bailey said. "They just fly to the football and refused to stay blocked."
Miller — also the team's punter — rallied Reading after going down 6-0 in the first quarter with a punt that rolled to the 1-yard line, followed by a strip-sack of Breckenridge quarterback Carter Staley on the very next play. Elijah Strine recovered in the end zone, marking the first time in MHSAA history that a fumble has been recovered in the end zone during a state championship game.
"Well I mean that's pretty cool," Miller said after being informed of the historical significance of his play.
"I think that gained a lot of momentum for us. We were down, they scored first, we're not used to that. We're not used to teams scoring much on us at all."
Breckenridge coach Kris Robinson said he "probably shouldn't have thrown the ball out of our own end zone."
"I chose to take a shot. Cost us a little bit."
LoPresto carried 16 times for 123 yards, Midtgard picked up 69 yards and two touchdowns on five carries and Strine rushed for Reading's last score.
Midtgard's 52-yard touchdown run with 6:10 left extended Reading's lead to 32-14 and slammed the door on Breckenridge's comeback hopes.
Both running backs found their groove after Reading picked up just 28 yards on the ground as a team in the first quarter.
"The plays will come when our running backs get them," Midgardt said. "Every now and then a long play will break out."
Breckenridge took the early lead after stopping Reading on fourth-and-1 at Reading's 32-yard-line.
Breckenridge reached the red zone and took a fourth-down gamble of its own. Staley found Hunter Collins for a 13-yard scoring pass to complete the seven-play drive and go up, 6-0, after a missed extra point.
From then, Breckenridge struggled to gain momentum offensively. It picked up just 53 total yards in scoreless second and third quarters.
"I thought we could move the ball against them, but we just weren't hitting our targets," Midtgard said. "We just didn't have good enough blocks to sustain the (drives)."
Miller sacked Staley on Breckenridge's next drive for a loss of 7, and then dropped Collins for a loss of 3 to help get the ball right back for Reading.
Reading’s offense went 50 yards the other way in nine plays, capped off by another gamble — this one a successful attempt — on fourth-and-goal from the 5. Hunter Midtgard followed an army of blockers to the end zone on a jet sweep that extended Reading’s lead to 16-6 after another 2-point conversion.
Reading’s rushing game came out on fire in the second half. It took 5:39 off the clock and traveled 80 yards on the ground — 57 came from senior LoPresto — and got in the end zone with a 4-yard quarterback keeper by Alex Price to take a 24-6 lead.
During last year's state finals, Price tweeted out a guarantee that his team would be playing at Ford Field this year, making good on his promise – and then some – with the championship victory.
"That's just a goal that they've worked towards in the weight room," Bailey said. "They don't miss practice, they work our, and our best attribute is that they can focus like nobody's business."
Breckenridge dug itself a deeper hole with costly second-half mistakes. Down three scores after Price’s touchdown, Breckenridge converted on fourth-and-8 to reach the Reading 36 and keep the drive alive, but then committed three consecutive penalties before punting from its own 37.
Breckenridge committed 10 penalties for 76 yards in the game, which Robinson called "very frustrating."
"It made for a much longer day," Robinson said. "That changes our whole offensive game-plan, our whole scheme."
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Breckenridge came alive. Its defense made a huge stop deep in Reading territory, and the offense took advantage of the great field position after a punt that was returned to midfield.
Lukas Ebright’s 38-yard reception down the left sideline on third-and-10 put Breckenridge at the 12. Staley connected with Collins in the end zone for the second time three plays later to pull within 10 points in just 1:22.
In addition to their two touchdowns, Staley was 14-for-19 through the air for 177 yards and Collins caught six passes for 55 yards. Lukas Ebright had 70 all-purpose yards and added a touchdown late for Breckenridge.
But just when it looked like Breckenridge may have cracked open the door, Midtgard slammed it shut 3:07 later. He broke free through the middle and scampered into the end zone on a 52-yard touchdown run to give reading a 32-14 lead with 6:10 left in the game.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.