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Burney's Bites will focus primarily on the local preps sports scene, but will also touch on some college and pro athletics, mostly in regards to athletes who hail and have played high school sports in Oakland County. My goal for the blog is to be conversational and anecdotal, a more relaxed and free formal take on high school athletics than you see in regular game day coverage.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

St. Mary's Stunned In State Finals

By Scott M. Burnstein
Special to The Oakland Press
Almost every team has one – that one arch-rival that it has to beat in order to get over that proverbial hump. For the pre-championship "Bad Boys" Pistons of the late-1980's it was the Boston Celtics. For the Tigers of late it's been the Minnesota Twins. And finally to put things in prep perspective, for the last couple years of Orchard Lake St. Mary's Eaglets football, it's been the East Grand Rapids Pioneers.
Well, the Eaglets won't be getting over that hump anytime soon, as they dropped the Division 3 state championship game in dramatic fashion to EGR for the second time in three seasons by the score of 24-21.
Despite having a phenomenal game, eclipsing the 300 yard mark of total offense and scoring two of the Eaglets three touchdowns, senior quarterback Robert Bolden fumbled as he crossed mid-field on a scramble with under 50 seconds left to play. The Pioneers, who trailed for most of the 4th quarter, proceeded to go into victory formation and run out the clock.
St. Mary's took its final lead of the game at the 9:21 mark of the 4th after junior Cortez Riley scored on a 3-yard touchdown run.
Much like Clarkston's loss to Sterling Heights Stevenson last week in the D1 semi-finals, this game will be remembered for controversial decisions by head coaches and referees alike - most notably, a very questionable call by the officials that allowed EGR to continue its game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the game.  On 4th and 14, Pioneers quarterback Ryan Elbe's throw was tipped up in the air 15 yards downfield and appeared to have hit the turf prior to landing in the hands of EGR's Kirk Spencer. But, the referee closest to the play ruled it a catch and instead of St. Mary's celebrating almost certain victory, the Pioneers had a first down in the red zone and all the momentum it could handle. With less than 74 seconds on the game clock, Elbe then hit a wide open Deon Jobe in the right corner of the end zone for a 18-yard touchdown to win it for EGR.   
This is the fourth time St. Mary's has lost to EGR in the last two years. The Pioneers topped St. Mary's in the 2007 state championship in a 5-overtime classic and the season openers for the 2008 and 2009 campaigns.
The loss is bittersweet for the Eaglets, who have been playing superior football since the playoffs started in October and finish out the year with an overall record of 8-5.
After a scoreless first quarter, Bolden scampered into the end zone from 13 yards to put St. Mary's ahead, 7-0, early in the second quarter.
EGR tied things up at 7-7 with under 35 seconds to play in the half when Elbe hit senior tight end Collin Voss for a 7-yard touchdown reception. Voss is headed to Central Michigan University on a basketball scholarship next season.
It looked as if the Eaglets were going to be able to reclaim the lead before the break when senior captain Gary Hunter (playing with a cast on his right hand due to a broken arm suffered in the regional finals again Detroit Crockett) returned the ensuing kick-off 68 yards and then on the first play from scrimmage Bolden hit receiver Allen Robinson for a 24-yard reception down to the 1-yard line with eight seconds left to play. But St. Mary's ran two rushing plays and couldn't punch it in and EGR went into the intermission celebrating its last-second stop.
The Pioneers' Bobby Aradema booted a 25-yard field goal to open the second half scoring at the 4:08 mark of the third quarter before Bolden answered with a spectacular 83-yard touchdown run off a broken play to put the Eaglets in front 14-10. On the play, Bolden broke past the Pioneers secondary and sprinted past a pair of EGR d-backs into the end zone.
Not to be out-done by his Penn State-bound QB counterpart, Elbe, only a junior, came right back and connected with A.J. McEwen on a 68-yard TD bomb, providing his team a 17-14 advantage in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Bolden proceeded to march his team back down field to re-take it's last lead of the game. On a contested roll-out of the pocket at midfield, he hit Nick Larson, who made a leaping grab, and the ball was on the goal-line.  Two plays later, St. Mary's own version of Refrigerator Perry, stout Eaglets junior lineman Cortez Riley, barreled through the EGR "D" for a 3-yard rushing score.
It wasn't to be, however, and the Eaglets and their fans will be faced with a year's worth of "what if's."
In the end, both the official's decision and St. Mary's head coach George Porritt's decision to leave three points on the board at the end of the first half proved costly. EGR goes home with its fourth straight state title in Division 3.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

that catch by kirk wasnt controversial at all. he clearly caught it. don't take anything away from his efforts and play. he won the game for was the biggest play of his career. give him some credit!

November 29, 2009 at 3:24 PM 

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