RAPID RIVER - The football season drew to a close on a dark, dreary and rainy Saturday for the Rapid River Rockets as they dropped a 20-16 decision to the Bellaire Eagles in an eight-player state semifinal contest.
Rapid River finished with a 300-225 edge in total offense, but the Eagles came up with just enough big plays to prevail.
The victory sends Bellaire (9-3) to Friday's state finals at Greenville, where it will face Deckerville (11-1). The Rockets ended 9-3.
Photo by Paul Gerard
Rapid RIver running back Lucas Bero breaks an attempted tackle by Jordan Proctor (10) of Bellaire during the MHSSA 8-Man state semifinal game Saturday at Rapid River. Bellaire won 20-16.
Sophomore running back Chase Small rushed for all three of Bellaire's touchdowns, including a 51-yard dash off left tackle to put the Eagles up 20-6 with three minutes, 21 seconds left in the contest.
The Rockets, however, pulled within 20-14 on junior Jake Pearson's two-yard pass to senior Riley Pajnich with 1:33 remaining.
Rapid River's deficit narrowed to the final four-point margin with 10.5 seconds left to play when Bellaire senior quarterback Zack Smith sprinted into the Eagles' endzone for a safety.
B - Small, 19-yard run (run failed), 4:12
RR - Pearson, four-yard run (run failed), 9:06
B - Small, 33-yard run (run failed), 4:31
B - Small, 51-yard run (Small run), 3:21
RR - Pearson, two-yard pass to Orth (Pearson pass to Pajnich), 1:33
RR - Safety, 0:10.5
Total offense - Bellaire, 225 yards (166 rushing, 59 passing); Rapid River, 300 yards (266 rushing, 34 passing).
Rushing - Bellaire, 166 yards (Small 16-112, Smith 13-31, Villafane 6-23); Rapid River, 260 yards (Pearson 29-138, Bero 17-88, Orth 8-27, Dominique 4-13).
Passing - Bellaire, 59 yards (Smith 1-4); Rapid River, 34 yards (Pearson 4-10, one TD).
Receiving - Bellaire (Villafane 1-59); Rapid River (Metter 1-19, Pajnich 2-13, Orth 1-2).
"With the amount of time that was left, we figured they had enough for one play and maybe take a time-out," said Bellaire coach Ron Bindi. "We told the kids we can give them two points and run the clock down. That's why we ran the ball into the endzone rather that kick it off and let it get into hands of No. 7 (Pearson). We knew we were going to do it. We practice on those kinds of things everyday. It's all part of the game and strategy."
One play after a free kick, Pearson scrambled for a short run before heading out of bounds at the Eagles' 49-yard line to stop the clock at 5.1 seconds.
Pearson then fired a Hail Mary pass into the endzone, which slipped through senior Robert Metter's hands as time expired.
"It's a 48-minute ball game and you want to give yourself an opportunity to win it in the end," said Rockets' coach Steve Ostrenga. "But you also have to finish drives earlier in the game. We were moving the ball. We also had some adversity, although not for a lack of effort. We had a couple dropped passes and turnovers. The difference is they didn't put the ball on the ground as many times as we did."
Bellaire opened the scoring on Small's 19-yard run off right tackle with 4:12 remaining in the first quarter.
The Rockets then tied the score on Pearson's four-yard run around left end early in the second frame.
Bellaire regained the lead at 12-6 when Small broke through the middle on a 33-yard sprint with 4:31 remaining in the third frame.
The Eagles rushed for 166 yards, led by Chase with 112 on 16 carries.
"Chase had a big game," said Bindi. "But in order for that to happen, your offensive line has to block. We kind of pride ourselves in being able to run the ball. We try to run the option and keep it going with three guys who can run the ball."
Smith was 1-of-4 passing, with his completion to senior Wesley Villafane covering 59 yards on the first drive of the contest which reached the Rapid River four. The Rockets' defense then stiffened, pushing the Eagles back and forcing them to come up empty.
"We have to give Rapid River credit," said Bindi. "They shut us down. But I think the weather conditions favored us a little because they couldn't throw as much as they wanted."
Pearson rushed for 138 yards in 29 attempts. He was also 4-of-10 passing for 34. Sophomore Lucas Bero added 88 yards rushing in 17 trips. The Rockets ended with 266 on the ground.
"This was similar to our regular-season meeting (a 28-16 loss on Oct. 19)," said Ostrenga. "They had some breaks go their way again today. We also have to give them credit because they took advantage of theirs. We had plan to pass and still moved the ball. Only, we had a couple unfortunate bounces."
Ostrenga added he was pleased with the Rockets' overall performance this season.
"We overcame a lot of things," he said. "We had a coach leave the day before the season and coach (Tyler) Kuehl) came aboard and really helped us out. Coach (Paul) Brunngraeber and (Bill) Schram were also a great help. We also had great leadership from Hayden Hardwick, Jake Pearson, Geno Constantino and Riley Pajnich. We couldn't ask for any more. In the last two weeks, we had very good practices."