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FOOTBALL: Brother Rice prevails in another nail-biter, beats CC in final seconds

   | Scott Burnstein

FOOTBALL: Brother Rice prevails in another nail-biter, beats CC in final seconds

NOVI – It happened again.

For the second consecutive week, two-time defending state champion Birmingham Brother Rice scored an exhilarating game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds to pick up the win and stay perfect on the 2013 campaign.

The 5-0 Warriors knocked off nemesis Novi Detroit Catholic Central 28-21 Saturday night on the road in front of a standing-room only crowd of almost 7,000 people, when star Brother Rice junior signal-caller Alex Malzone connected with back-up wide receiver Patrick Sparks for a 35-yard touchdown with less than 30 ticks of the clock left on a leaping grab.

Week 4 was equally exciting, as the Warriors snuck past Warren De La Salle 26-24 in the already infamously-controversial “Hail Mary Game,” that saw Malzone find senior safety Jason Alessi (first-ever play on offense) for the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

Saturday might have been legendary Brother Rice head coach Al Fracassa’s last meeting with his program’s arch rivals and his final participation in what is pretty much universally regarded as the best prep rivalry in the state of Michigan.

Fracassa, the state’s all-time winningest sideline general and No. 6 in the entire nation, will step down at the end of the season after over four decades at the helm.

“I love the spirit of the rivalry and tonight was the way it almost always is, nip-and-tuck the whole way,” he said. “We’re making a bit of habit of pulling these close ones out with some pretty amazing efforts and that’s all about the kids going out there and making plays.”

The victory for Brother Rice evens Fracassa’s personal overall record against Catholic Central at 28-28-1.

The two teams, both undefeated entering Saturday’s heated affair, could re-match in the Prep Bowl at Ford Field in Week 9.

Catholic Central (4-1, ranked No. 2 in Division 1) took a 14-7 lead when senior quarterback Sean Birney hooked-up with tight end David Wright for a 6-yard touchdown with 4:05 remaining in the second quarter.

But Brother Rice (ranked No. 2 in Division 2) tied things 14-14 right before the half on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Brian Walker (21 carries, 165 yards) and then went ahead for the first time on Malzone’s 32-yard touchdown pass to senior wide out Josh Flye at the 7:51 mark of the third quarter on a picture-perfect throw.

The host Shamrocks knotted things for a final time 21-21 on the ensuing possession on a 3-yard touchdown scamper by senior running back Connor Holton (16 carries, 110 yards), however couldn’t capitalize on several late drives, including one that started at their own 38-yard line with 2:45 left.

Brother Rice got the pigskin back and marched down the field for the Malzone-to-Sparks score to win it.

“I wanted the ball,” the rangy 6-foot-5 Sparks said. “The looks haven’t been coming my way much this year and I knew the second my number was called that I would be ready to go."

His touchdown snag Saturday was his second catch of the fall.

Malzone, one of the premiere field generals in the state’s Class of 2015, was 11-of-19 for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

Jack Grisan, Brother Rice’s senior linebacker and co-captain, led the Warriors defense with 12 tackles and a sack.

Longtime Shamrocks head coach Tom Mach knows how special the annual tilt between the two schools is.

"This was the game we expected it to be and it was another real good one," he said. "You've got to give Coach Fracassa and Brother Rice their due, when the game was there to be won, they went out and won it and we didn't."