GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Catholic Central football team had just squandered a double-digit, second-half lead against longtime City League rival West Catholic in Friday’s Division 5 regional final.
But the Catholic Central Cougars’ confidence never wavered.
Senior quarterback Connor Wolf scored the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining to lift Catholic Central to a thrilling 30-28 road win.
“I have a ton of confidence in our guys no matter the situation,” Cougars coach Todd Kolster said. “It’s something that you work on so you hope your guys can handle it well, but it was a battle between two great football teams.
“Their kids played their hearts out, our kids played their hearts out and it’s a shame someone had to lose that one. Fortunately for us, we got one more point than they did.”
The Cougars (11-1) spoiled the Falcons’ bid for back-to-back state titles while also handing them their only loss of the season.
Catholic Central advances to next Saturday’s Division 5 state semifinal against either Frankenmuth or Kingsford.
Wolf’s 7-yard scamper with 1:15 remaining in regulation capped a wild game that saw each team rally from large deficits.
West Catholic took a 28-24 lead on a 1-yard run by Charlie DeBruyn with 3:49 left before the Cougars’ game-winning drive.
“Connor (Wolf) works so hard and does everything the right way,” Kolster said. “And obviously we are going to put the ball in his hands. I have 100% confidence that he is going to make the right decision.”
Catholic Central trailed 14-3 in the first half after West Catholic scored on its opening possession to go up 7-0.
Later, Nolan Rinehart picked up a Catholic Central fumble and raced 35 yards for a defensive score.
“They are such a good team and have blown everybody out, so obviously we knew we had to weather the storm early,” Kolster said. “They went down the field and scored early, so we knew we had to keep our emotions in check a little bit and keep battling and keep fighting.”
The Cougars recovered with 14 consecutive points to snare a 17-14 halftime lead.
Senior Kellen Russell-Dixon scored on touchdown runs of 9 and 3 yards, respectively.
“All week, this game was hyped up, and so this is super exciting,” Russell-Dixon said. “It’s pretty big because it’s my senior year so it’s nice to advance.
“I think that last drive was a testament to our foundation. We practice those situations where we have to go down and score when the odds are against us. I had a lot of confidence going into that.”
Catholic Central extended its lead to open the third quarter.
On fourth down, Connor Wolf found Raef Goosen in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass and a 24-14 lead.
However, the defending Division 6 champions didn’t go down without a fight and put forth a stirring rally with consecutive touchdowns from DeBruyn to regain the lead.
West Catholic (11-1) had one last chance to win the game, but Catholic Central came up with the defensive stop on fourth-and-one in the final seconds.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the Catholic Central quarterback. We regret this error which has been corrected.