DETROIT (WOOD) — For the Grand Rapids Catholic Central football program, losing just hasn’t been a part of the recent past.
The Cougars haven’t lost a game since 2019, and when it comes to playing at Ford Field, the victories haven’t stopped piling up.
In the past five trips to a state championship game, Catholic Central has won four times. Three were in Division 4 and last season was Division 5, which the Cougars were looking to repeat on Saturday evening.
In their way? Marine City, another undefeated team like the Cougars who had beaten most of its opponents by double figures (the lone exception was 21-14 over Corunna).
In a game where the Mariners (13-1) gave Catholic Central (14-0) all they could handle, it was the Cougars finding a way to grind the game out late and finally start clicking to earn the 2021 Division 5 state crown, 31-7.
With the game staying tight nearing the fourth quarter, the Cougars explosive passing attack finally broke through on a John Passinault pass to Nolan Zeigler, as it has so many times this season.
The 59-yard bomb made it a two score game Marine City couldn’t recover from.
“We finally were able to start getting some passes to work downfield after having to chip away all game long at (Marine City),” Catholic Central head coach Todd Kolster said. “It was good to see our guys get it working and accomplish this.”
The Cougars got down the field on the opening drive but stalled out and had to settle for just three points.
The game would stay that way until a pair of penalties set up a Jack Rellinger rushing score from 2 yards out to make it 10-0.
The Mariners answered with assertive response, going down the field with ease and ending it on a Jeffery Heaslip to Charles Tigert score on an out route from 3 yards away, suddenly making it 10-7.
The game would hold there until late in the third quarter when Passinault and Zeigler’s connection began to work its magic for the back-to-back scores to put the game out of reach.
Notre Dame commit Zeigler said it’s a connection that he and Passinault have been crafting for quite some time now.
“It’s like playing backyard football,” Zeigler said. “(Passinault) is just tossing it up there and my teammates did a good job blocking down field, I’m glad we got that connection to work today.”
Right now the Cougars simply can’t be stopped and there are no signs of slowing down as this team will have plenty of returners in 2022.
One player who led the Cougars to a state title in 2020, Joey Silveri, was out all season with an injury.
The team still looked to him for leadership and believed they needed him and his presence to make it back to the title game this season.
“Joey had a personality that this team really took on all season with them,” Kolster said. “He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached, and his toughness was instilled in these guys.”
Passinault, who took over in Silveri’s absence this season, worked with the injured senior all season to help with his game at a position he was launched into.
“If you would have told me I’d be here in the state title game after Joey’s injury, I would’ve told you you were crazy,” Passinault said. “His leadership was with us the whole way and I’m lucky to have a group like we had to work with.”
The seniors on this roster will now leave a legacy of completing a three-peat of state titles, which is something Kolster wants them to really take in.
“It’s simply unbelievable what this group of seniors was able to do and it was great working with them every day,” Kolster said. “No one can take what they did here from them.”