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FOOTBALL: St. Mary's grabs Catholic League title, defeats CC in Prep Bowl

   | Scott Burnstein

FOOTBALL: St. Mary's grabs Catholic League title, defeats CC in Prep Bowl

DETROIT – The CHSL crown is going back to the Lake.

For the first time in seven years, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s will be raising a Catholic League Central Division championship banner after the Eaglets overpowered Novi Detroit Catholic Central 27-10 in the 2012 Prep Bowl down at Ford Field on Saturday night.

St. Mary’s (7-2), the defending Division 3 state champs and ranked No. 5 in the state heading into the week, leapt out to a 14-0 lead at the break, before a fourth-quarter surge sparked by the Eaglets’ running attack and defense put the game to bed.

“This is where we wanted to be, standing here as champions in one of the toughest leagues you’ll find in high school football,” St. Mary’s head coach George Porritt said. “To get back to the mountain top is a great feeling.”

Going into Saturday’s game, – which was a rematch of last season’s championship showdown –, Porritt and the Eaglets had lost five straight prep bowls in five consecutive years.

Last year, St. Mary’s fell 21-7 to Catholic Central. Just last week, Catholic Central beat St. Mary’s handily 35-13.

Yet, you would have never been able to tell that on Saturday, as the Eaglets controlled play throughout almost the entire contest.

All-state senior running back Grant Niemiec scored two touchdowns to highlight St. Mary’s offensive arsenal, his first from one-yard out to open the game’s scoring and his second, a two-yarder to wrap things up.

Eaglets’ senior quarterback Matt Linehan found sophomore split end Van Jefferson for a 19-yard touchdown strike in the closing seconds of the first quarter, averting several Shamrocks’ pass rushers to thread a perfect needle to his receiver in the end zone and give his team a two-touchdown advantage.

Catholic Central (5-4) put 10 fast points on the board towards the conclusion of the third quarter courtesy of a David Houle 1-yard touchdown run and a 25-yard field goal by Garrett Moores, to make it 14-10 going into the fourth, however couldn’t convert on the momentum.

Spencer McInnis’ 45-yard touchdown sprint to start the game’s final stanza and Niemiec’s last score of the night spelled the end of the line for Catholic Central’s hopes of a repeat CHSL title.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Linehan of capturing the Catholic League championship. “We’re all coming together and we’re all ready to finish off this season right. Tonight was the first step and now we’re gearing all of our energy and focus towards getting another state championship for the trophy case at school.”

Despite the fact that Linehan, son of former NFL head coach and current Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, is in his first year starting under center for the Eaglets, he’s considered a college recruit and he’s played like it all season long. Jefferson, also in his first year as a starter, is the son of former NFL wide out and current Lions' receivers coach Shawn Jefferson and is in the process of making a name for himself as one of the top college prospects in the state's Class of 2015.

"We're all brothers on this team," Jefferson said. "We've all got each other's backs, no matter what."

McInnis recorded a game-high 107 yards on the ground. Him and Niemiec are first-cousins.

Senior linebacker Sean Harrington and sophomore safety Tyson Smith fueled St. Mary’s stifling defensive effort on Saturday, limiting Catholic Central to a mere 20 yards of total offense in the first half.

Harrington collected eight tackles and two sacks, while Smith had a pair of interceptions, his first one setting up Linehan’s scoring toss to Jefferson and his final one putting a bow on the victory in the closing seconds of action.