Down 24-17 to Detroit Cass Tech with eight seconds remaining on Friday night, Grosse Pointe South on Friday night called a trick play. Quarterback Alex Shaheen pitched the ball to sophomore receiver Will Johnson, who then loaded up and fired a 25-yard touchdown throw to A.J. Benson as time expired.
But it didn’t count.
Officials gathered while both sidelines waiting nervously. After several moments of deliberation, South was flagged for a double-forward pass, ending the game and advancing Cass Tech past the predistrict round with a controversial 24-17 win.
The illegal forward pass was not originally called, but an official threw his hat during the play to signify that Benson had stepped out of bounds while running his route. After officials deliberated, South head coach Tim Brandon said, they determined that Benson was forced out of bounds, but that there was still an entirely different penalty to be called.
“Basically what they said, was that there were two forward passes,” Brandon said. “When the quarterback gave the ball to the slot receiver, he kind of pitched it instead of handing it.”
Brandon said that he suspects the officials convening near Cass Tech’s sideline — which had been decidedly fed up with the officiating after the opening drive — influenced the official’s decision to throw a flag for the double-forward pass.
“I really think that because the meeting of the refs was over on that side,” Brandon said. “There was probably a lot of influence from the other side, which is their job. That’s what coaches do. But I think they were probably influenced that way, and that they probably didn’t even see it.”
Donny Scott ran the ball 15 times for 136 yards and a touchdown and Sebastian Brown threw one touchdown pass to Corey Robinson and a 25-yard touchdown throw to Kalen King with 44 seconds remaining to win the game for Tech (6-4). Shaheen and Benson connected eight times for 158 yards and two touchdowns for South (7-3).
Cass Tech had its way with South’s defense through its first two possessions, but couldn’t get out of its own way, and ended the first quarter in a scoreless tie. Tech in the first half of Friday’s game committed six penalties totaling 50 yards and fumbled three times, losing two of them.
While it didn’t come away with points, Cass Tech learned to valuable lessons from those two drives: They could run the ball on South’s defense, and the game would be officiated tightly.
“You’ve got to understand that the refs are going to do their job,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said. “You can’t take extra shots, you can’t hold, you can’t try to get a little more aggressive than you need to.”
Scott fumbled at the South 32 and Kobe King turned it over in South’s red zone. The fumbles were recovered by South’s Sam Tucker and Max Gavagan, respectively.
On the next play from scrimmage after King’s fumble, though, Tech would finally get the break it was looking for when Shaheen fired his first-down throw right between the numbers of Cass Tech junior safety Eric McGee for an interception.
Cass Tech ran three plays before junior kicker Josh Hernandez put through a 33-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 10:01 left in the second quarter.
South was given a boost of energy by a pair of seniors who, up to that point, had yet to get involved. Owen Bollaert carried the ball six times for 22 yards and Benson caught three passes for 41 yards on the ensuing South drive, which ended with a 27-yard field goal by Ben Gabrion to tie it at 3-all with 5:01 to go in the half.
Just 13 seconds later, Cass Tech’s Scott would find redemption for his first-quarter fumble and an answer for Gabrion’s tying field goal. The senior back took a first-down handoff 61 yards up the middle to put Tech up 10-3.
South struck first in the second half, tying things up at 10 after its defense forced a three-and-out to start the third quarter. Shaheen rolled to his right on third-and-9 and found Benson, who caught Shaheen’s pass over the middle and evaded a handful of defenders on his way to a 57-yard touchdown.
“My guards, my tackles,” Scott said, “they’re some dogs, man. When I see field, I knew with my speed, I can get to the end zone.”
Wilcher said he wasn’t surprised when South began to air it out to start the second half, and that his focus was on simply containing the passing attack while not letting other parts of South’s offense take over.
“We knew they had great wide receivers,” Wilcher said. “We knew that was going to happen. We just had to be prepared for it.”
And South wasn’t done riding the wave just yet.
On Cass Tech’s next possession, junior defensive back Luke Srebernak hit King as he crossed midfield, forcing a fumble that Tucker pounced on at the 46, his second recovery of the game.
Shaheen would throw passes of 22 and 32 yards — the latter coming on third-and-12 — to Benson. The drive was ultimately disrupted by Jonathon Drake's fumble at the 2, which Cass Tech recovered in the end zone.
But the momentum had swung.
South forced another three-and-out, resulting in a botched punt that’d give the field position at the 25.
Shaheen and Benson connected on third-and-9 for a 24-yard scoring play to give South a 17-10 lead in the third quarter’s final minutes.
Cass Tech got back into the game to start the fourth, shortly after nearly blowing its chance at points. An offensive pass interference flag took a 23-yard touchdown off the board, but on third-and-20 from the 35, Brown found Robinson down the right sideline for an easy pitch and catch that tied it at 17 with 9:53 to go.
Cass Tech forced South to punt deep in its own territory late, getting the ball at its 45. After a 14-yard run from Scott and a 15-yard personal foul on South, Brown found King in the end zone for a dazzling 25-yard touchdown throw.
More predistrict games
Plymouth 29, White Lake Lakeland 13: Nick Downs passed for two scores and ran in for another , and Logan Walkley had 30 carries for 114 yards and a TDfor Plymouth (9-1). Lakeland finished 7-3.
Detroit King 45, Temperance Bedford 7: Peny Boone had 11 carries for 165 yards and two TDs, Marshawn Lee had six catches for 116 yards and a score and Imani Dowdell recorded 13 tackles for King (8-2). Bedford finished 6-4.
St. Clair Shores Lakeview 36, Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse 14: Antonio Lovett had 12 carries for 124 yards and two rushing touchdowns and one touchdown reception for 34 yards, Isaiah Robinson had two receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown, Tristan Witt was 5-for-10 passing for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and Jude Hage had eight tackles and one interception for Lakeview (8-2). L'Anse Creuse finished 6-4.
Allen Park 39, Trenton 15: David Cagle had 151 total yards and two touchdowns, and Nico Tiberia recorded 22 carries for 170 yards and three scores for Allen Park (8-2). Trenton finished 5-5.
Riverview 22, Gibraltar Carlson 8: Jacob Puma had 22 carries for 87 yards and two TDs and Christian Lopez had 19 carries for 83 yards and a score for Riverview (8-2). Gibralter Carlson finishes at 6-4.
Dearborn Heights Robichaud 29, Dundee 28: David Williams went 9-for-14 throwing for 237 yards and two touchdowns, Ky’Shaun Jackson had four catches for 126 yards and two scores, Cameron Underwood had four receptions for 84 yards, and Isaac Thomas carried the ball seven times for 54 yards and a touchdown for Robichaud (8-2). Dundee finished 5-5.
Detroit Loyola 26, Detroit Central 12: Justyz Tuggle had a 63-yard touchdown reception from Elijah Grainger, and Kenyatta McKeever returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score for Central (8-2). Loyola is 5-4.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.