Senior-laden Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central celebrates state football title

Players, coaches and cheerleaders gather to celebrate Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central's 7-0 victory over Maple City Glen Lake at Ford Field, earning them the Division 6 state football championship. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Goda)

DETROIT — For the seniors on Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central’s football team, the trip to the top of the gridiron heap wasn’t a rapid rise — it was a grind.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, as far as the Falcons are concerned. They ground out a 7-0 victory over Maple City Glen Lake on Friday afternoon at Detroit’s Ford Field to win the Division 6 state championship, their first since 2014.

Quarterback Alex Bergmoser scored on a 6-yard run in the second quarter, and that was all the scoring the Falcons would need, as their defenders shut down the Lakers the rest of the way.

“We’ve had a strong defense this year. We’ve got a lot of faith in coach (Brian) Flint and his defense; they’ve been coming up big for us a lot lately. They went out and made plays,” head coach Adam Kipf said. “Offensively speaking, (Glen Lake) did a great job and they took away some things from us, but we were able to grind it out.”

Much like the pace of the game Friday, it was a slow but steady climb for the Falcons’ 20-member senior class.

“Going into high school my freshman year, I knew we had a special group in our class,” said Alex Morgan, the team’s leading rusher. “My sophomore year we had 11 starters on the team that made the playoff run. Our junior year we had a ton of juniors starting on that team. So we had one goal in mind this senior year, and it was to be right where we are right now.”

As freshmen, with no measurable impact, the team went 4-5 and missed the playoffs. In their sophomore season — when many of them were called up to varsity — SMCC went 7-5, but their season ended suddenly in the regional round, when a bad snap on a punt in the final minute gave Madison Heights Madison a safety and a two-point victory. St. Mary Catholic Central improved to 9-3 last year, but there was more heartbreak in the regionals, as the Falcons came up a yard short of the end zone on the final play of the game and lost to Cassopolis, 23-22.

“It was a heartbreaking loss, and watching those seniors go by,” captain Sam Cousino said. “We remembered how that felt in the off-season, and just needed to get in the weight room, grind it out all summer long, 7 a.m. liftings, working to get over that regional hump — we finally did it, and we did a little bit more than that.”

Bergmoser — who missed all but three games of his junior year due to injury — didn’t take his senior season for granted.

“As a kid, I went to the 2014 state championship game. I just remember sitting in the stands and thinking to myself, 'I want to be here one day. I want to be here with my friends, with my other players and grind it out and get a state championship for myself,'” he said. “That’s what we did, and I love all my players and teammates for that.”

Even in the pre-season, coach Kipf felt this would be a special group, citing the number of senior impact players and their leadership skills.

SMCC sailed through Huron League play, both of the district games and the regional — this time, a 36-7 victory over Montrose — but faced a big test from Onsted in the semifinal round. It took Bergmoser’s field goal with no time remaining to win that one, 17-14.

Kipf said his squad showed incredible focus in the week leading up to the final, and the upperclassmen came through.

“We’ve got seniors, a lot of vets, a lot of three-year starters, so this was a special team,” Cousino said. “I know I was affected when the ’14 team won, so I know the feeling of what it’s like to a be a kid watching that. I hope that we inspire the future Falcons to strive to that, and give them a chance to taste a victory of their own.”  

SMCC was one of just four Catholic high schools seeking state championships last weekend; three were successful.

In Friday night’s Division 4 game, Grand Rapids Catholic Central dominated in a 44-0 victory over Birmingham Detroit Country Day — the third-largest margin of victory since the playoffs started in 1975.

The Cougars were led by sophomore quarterback Joey Silveri, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns, three to Jace Williams. Silveri also ran for two touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 139 yards.

In the Division 5 contest Saturday afternoon, Lansing Catholic scored 24 points in the last 13 minutes of the game to defeat previously-unbeaten Almont, 31-17. Zach Gillespie threw the eventual game-winning touchdown pass to Mitch Raphael with 3:41 remaining. The Cougar defense intercepted five Almont passes and recovered two fumbles.

The only Catholic school falling short was Jackson Lumen Christi, which saw its state-best 35-game winning streak snapped at the hands of Pewamo-Westphalia, 14-0, in a defensive battle for the Division 7 crown on Saturday morning. Pewamo-Westphalia scored late in each half: Aaron Bearss caught a 27-yard touchdown pass just three seconds before halftime, and the Pirates iced it on Carter Thelen’s 16-yard run with 2:16 left in the game.

No Detroit Catholic High School League teams qualified for the state finals — the first time that’s happened since 1993.