The Marine City Mariners were well aware that Detroit Country Day’s roster is dotted with high-profile football players.
Obviously, the Mariners weren’t star-struck.
Marine City scored with 45 seconds to play in the fourth quarter on Saturday, beating Country Day 33-28 in a Division 4 regional title game at East China Stadium.
Marine City (11-1) now faces Lansing Sexton in the Division 4 semifinals on Saturday. Sexton (12-0) advanced by beating Saginaw Swan Valley 26-21 on Friday. The neutral site of the semifinal will be announced on Monday.
The Yellowjackets had three Division 1 college-committed players on offense in quarterback Tyler Weigers (Rutgers), receiver Maurice Ways (Michigan) and running back Richard Wilson (Boston College). While the trio certainly did some damage, the Mariners used imaginative play calling and sound overall defense to advance.
“We had a theme all week, ‘team over talent,” Marine City Coach Ron Glodich said. “We really thought our team was going to be one that went into the fourth quarter and we said ‘OK, if we get in the fourth quarter, let’s see who’s got the bigger heart.’ We found out tonight. I’m really proud of my kids.”
Country Day, which went to the Division 4 title game last season, finishes 8-4. Coach Dan MacLean thought the game was not decided solely by the players.
“Very disappointed,” MacLean said. “I’m sorry it came down to the officials’ calls. It’s a high school football game. I’m really disappointed for my team. I didn’t think it was a good whistle all night. Let’s do it on the field.”
MacLean was willing to give Marine City credit for executing.
“They do what they always do. Get you with formations and they did some things and we let some big plays out,” he said.
The winning play came on an 18-yard pass from Mariners quarterback Alex Merchant to receiver Pat Patsalis in the corner of the Country Day end zone. There was discussion whether Patsalis had possession and stayed in bounds. The play put Marine City up 33-28.
“I couldn’t grab it with my other hand so I just pinned it to my head and just fell,” Patsalis said. “I tipped it a little bit, but I just held on to it, dragged my foot, and … wow.”
Country Day got the ball at its 15-yard-line with 38 seconds left and one time out. The Yellowjackets got to their 30, then used the multiple-lateral play, but were stopped around midfield when the clock expired.
The Mariners couldn’t hide their joy after the seesaw battle ended in their favor.
“It’s so exciting; I can’t wait,” said Merchant. “There’s never been a bigger opportunity for any of us. We’ve just got to keep going. We aren’t stopping yet.”
Country Day led 14-7 at halftime, but that edge lasted all of 24 seconds. After getting the third-quarter kickoff at their 24, the Mariners tied the game when Jarrett Mathison bolted 76 yards through the Country Day defense.
Later in the third quarter, Country Day took over and drove to the Marine City 22 thanks largely to completions by Wiegers of 15 and 13 yards. Wilson took over from there, bouncing off three would-be tackles to score. The TD put Country Day up 21-14 with 2:41 to play in the third quarter.
It took Marine City less than three minutes to tie the score. Joe Mazure intercepted a Wiegers pass and a Country Day penalty gave the Mariner s the ball at the Yellowjackets’ 32.
Mathison ran for 12 yards and a late hit put the ball at the Country Day 10. Merchant hit Mathison in the corner of the end zone and it was 21-21 with 11:50 to play in the fourth quarter.
Country Day came right back to score on an 8-yard run by Wilson to take a 28-21 lead with 8:39 to go in the fourth quarter.
Sure enough, the Mariners responded. They recovered an onside kick attempt and Merchant hit Mathison for a 53-yard gain to the CD 8. One play later, Mathison scored from the 5. Instead of tying the game again, however, a bad snap on the extra-point attempt left the Mariners a point short at 28-27 with 7:43 to go in the fourth.
Marine City stopped Country Day on a key fourth-and-3 play to take over at its 30. That’s where the eventual winning drive began.
Marine City was impressive on its first possession of the game, driving 63 yards on 10 plays. Mathison covered the final three yards for the touchdown and the Mariners were up 7-0 with four minutes to play in the first quarter.
The teams traded possessions with no threats, but Country Day was about to turn to its potent pass-catch combination. On first down at the Country Day 48, Wiegers launched a pretty pass to Ways, who caught it in stride inside the Marine City 5-yard-line, just out of the reach of a defender. Ways coasted into the end zone and the Yellowjackets knotted the score 7-7 two minutes into the second quarter.
The Mariners used one their patented multi-fake kickoff returns and Mathison bolted free up the middle, covering 69 yards to the Country Day 24. Marine City got to the Yellowjackets’ 1, but on fourth down and inches, were stopped.
Country Day took over with 99 yards to cover and the Yellowjackets did just that. Wilson broke off runs of 13, 9, 8 and 16 to help Country Day get to its 46. Two plays later, Wiegers unleashed again, powering a
pinpoint pass along the deep sideline to Jacob Hill, who scampered into the end zone.
That gave Country Day a 14-7 lead with 17 seconds left in the half.
The second-have would prove to be intense and entertaining, with Marine City heading to the Final Four.