Orchard Lake — George Porritt wants to get that feeling of playing in the state championship game at Ford Field again, getting that ultimate high of lifting a state championship trophy.
After all, Porritt knows what it feels like, winning his first state title at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 25 years ago.
Back in 2016, Porritt guided St. Mary’s to its third consecutive state championship in one of the most thrilling finishes in title game history. St. Mary’s scored on an 18-yard TD pass from Caden Prieskorn to Ky’ren Cunningham with four seconds left in a 29-28 win over Muskegon.
“It never gets old, it’s a great feeling,” Porritt would say.
Porritt is now in his 30th year as St. Mary’s head coach, trying to guide his team back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
St. Mary’s is off to a great start after scoring a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to earn a 28-14 win at Macomb Dakota last Thursday. It had suffered heart-breaking losses to Dakota the previous three years, 35-28 in 2016, 31-24 in ’17 and 28-24 last season.
“We’ve lost to them by a score each time, so it was a real big win for us to start the season,” Porritt said. “We know we beat a real good team, too. We had a real good fourth quarter.”
St. Mary’s weakness in the past couple of years, the offensive line, is now becoming one of its strengths, showing the ability to open holes for Anthony Anton (15-138), Garnett Davis (18-129) and Lance Hillie (7-65) to combine for 332 rushing yards against Dakota with Anton scoring on a 11-yard TD run with 3:09 left, followed by Davis with a 21-yard TD interception return.
“We have a good group of juniors and seniors who are big and can run,” said Porritt of the offensive line. “We have a good trio of backs too, and they’re all similar, but they have to play defense too.”
Porritt is also fortunate to have good senior leadership in quarterback Grant Henson and receiver/cornerback Kam Arnold who teamed up for a 57-yard TD pass in the third quarter.
St. Mary’s defense limited Dakota to 91 yards passing while forcing five turnovers.
“The defense did a nice job,” said Porritt who picked up his 262nd career win, putting him in a tie for 20th all-time.
“I think our secondary did a great job in the back. We were kind of thin last year and now we’re senior oriented.”
St. Mary’s won six state championships and advanced to 12 title game appearances in an 18-year stretch from 1999-2016. Could St. Mary’s win its eighth state championship under Porritt this season? It’s a possibility, especially if it can turn those close losses of a year ago — four by four points or less — into wins.
But, one thing for sure Porritt is still having fun with coaches who have been with him for decades or with former players have come back to help out.
When asked if he was just as passionate as he was 30 years ago, Porritt replied: “I think so. I have a lot of guys who are coaching for me now that had played for me. Then, I have a few of the veterans that look forward to this time of year, and I don’t know what else I’d do, because I enjoy this time of year and my wife enjoys it too. It’s a family-type of thing.”
Defensive coordinator Frank Janosz, offensive coordinator Don Buchanan — also former Fenton head coach — and line coach Sean Clouse have been with Porritt for the majority of the 30 years while former players in Jeff Phillips (Duke) and Jermaine (Michigan) and James (Central Michigan) Gonzales, along with Mark Lengel and Todd Bartos have also joined the staff. Jermaine is the head JV coach, who also helps out the varsity team, and James the strength and conditioning coach.
“I still get to yell at them,” joked Porritt of his former players. “It makes it a lot more fun to coach football when you have a staff that works together and helps each other out too.”