East Makes Comeback For The Ages In Win
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EAST LANSING — After being shut out in the first half, it was the East’s turn to return the favor — and then some — to the West. Up 16 points heading into the third quarter, it appeared the West All Stars were en route to tying the all-time series at the 30th Annual Michigan High School All Star Football Game.
Then MSU-bound tailback Jeremy Langford took matters — and the football — into his own hands, scoring the winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining in Saturday afternoon’s game at Spartan Stadium, the West prevailing 20-16 with 20 unanswered points.
And on a desperation hail mary pass with 4 seconds left, Troy’s Bobby Wunderlich snatched an interception to secure the victory.
“I knew I had it as soon as it was in the air. I was coming down and I thought, ‘If I don’t catch this, I’m not playing college football,’” the Grand Valley commit said laughing. “I wanted them to throw my way, I wanted to make that play at the end.”
The series stands at 16-14 in favor of the East.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before,” said Langford, of Westland John Glenn. “I had all types of emotions. In the locker room (at halftime), we just said the score was 0-0 and whoever won the half was going to win the game.” Langford finished with 42 yards on 15 carries.
The East’s final drive, led by Sterling Heights Stevenson’s quarterback Jason Fracassa, started at their own 4-yard line with just more than 5 minutes to play.
A defensive pass interference call followed by an 11-yard Fracassa run spring-loaded possession to their 30-yard line. A pair of Langford runs and a 15-yard Baquer Sayed catch got the East just outside the red zone.
With 22 seconds remaining, lined up in field-goal formation on 4th and 6, the East hard-counted the West offsides — then deciding to go for the win instead of the tie, while down 16-13.
“The West, the whole week had a lot of confidence and they played with a lot of confidence, but in the second half, maybe they got a little cocky or maybe we came out harder, but either way it was a great game,” said Fracassa, going 10-for-20 with 133 yards and two touchdowns.
The East had 185 yards passing and just 20 yards rushing, along with three interceptions on defense — snagging a win despite having 11 less minutes of possession than the West and converting on just one of 12 third-down conversions.
“It was a matter of executing a little better and getting some field position,” said East’s head coach Jim Sparks, from Clawson High School. “I knew with this group of guys, once we got a little confidence and found a little rhythm … I expected a little bit of slow start — not that slow — but we came around.”
The East’s first possession of the second half led to a 14-yard Torico Seary touchdown reception from Fracassa.
And just seconds into the fourth quarter, East defensive back Deonte Cook snatched a tipped ball interception away from West quarterback Jordan Beachnau, taking it deep into the red zone.
Another Fracassa pass — this time to wide receiver Eric Cogan, of Petersburg-Summerfield High School — led to a 17-yard score.
The East converted on all three of its red zone chances, the West just 2-for-5. The West, however, collected more total yards, 286-205, in the loss to the East.
In the second half, the East brought their safeties into the box to suffocate the West’s running game more — changing their game plan to a more pass-oriented offense.
All three West possessions in the third quarter led to a punt.
“When neither team has any momentum and then when one team starts to make some plays, like the West did, they were rolling and got things going,” West head coach Rob Zimmerman said, of DeWitt. “All Star games are a lot different. You aren’t breaking down film and you have rules you have to follow. The experience of the whole thing is what you have to focus on. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it was a lot of fun.”
It was all West in the first half, led by Ovid-Elsie’s Chris Robinson’s two touchdowns — each from 3 yards out — in the latter part of the second quarter to make it 16-0.
The first came at the 7:27 mark and the second with just 10 seconds remaining in the half, both handoffs coming from Holt quarterback Jordan Beachnau.
“We kept up our tempo (the whole game), but they played a little better football than we did,” Robinson said. “We made a couple mistakes and they capitalized on it.”
Montague quarterback Cody Kater completed five passes for 89 yards in the first half, 140 overall, while Beachnau logged 15 yards passing and 47 yards rushing on eight quarterback keepers.
The West racked up 11 first downs to the East’s one in the first half. The West rushed for 102 yards while the East logged -23 in that time.
West’s Charlie Leffingwell stuffed Langford in the back of the endzone for a safety to put his team up 2-0 with just over 4 minutes to play in the first quarter.
West kicker Paul Mudgett missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt at the 7:09 mark of the first quarter.
“These are the greatest coaches and this was the best experience,” Wunderlich said. “What they did this week, it wasn’t all X’s and O’s — it was about having fun and enjoying this week. Coach Sparks was so riled up before the game it was insane. We all had goosebumps from his speeches and we were so ready to go. That credited to our win today.”
OFFICIAL GAME STATS
GAME NOTEBOOK by Sean Ely
EAST LANSING — When you stick more than 80 of the best high school football players in one area, a brotherhood — almost automatically — is formed.
And for Jason Fracassa — a record-setting quarterback from Sterling Heights Stevenson — that bond is more important than any win or loss outcome.
“I played against a lot of my East teammates on this All Star team during my regular seasons and wanted to prevail over them every time,” he said. “But this week? We came together and treated each other like brothers. And because of that we’ll be friends for a long, long time and always have something to talk about.”
When Lawrence Zietz, a Powers Catholic linebacker for the West team, arrived in East Lansing last weekend, he had no idea what to expect.
Would each All Star be more interested in proving themselves as the best one athlete there than getting along?
“Everyone of us is the best from our team, so it’s amazing how everyone came together so quickly,” he said. “We clicked immediately and it feels like we’ve been playing together for a long time — not just one week.”
Top West players Chris Robinson, headed to GVSU, and Paul Jorgensen, off to Northwestern University, said it’d be fun to play the All Star teams from Ohio, Illinois or another nearby state, rather than having just one game.
“When it’s practice time, we get down to business but in the dorms afterward, we have a lot of fun too,” Jorgensen said. “It’d be nice to have a few more games together. But we all have to go our separate ways, onto bigger things. And that’s OK too.”
Jim Morrissey — former MSU football star and Chicago Bears ’85 Super Bowl champion — was selected as an honorary captain for the West squad.
“I follow as many kids as I can because I really like to keep up with at least MSU’s recruits,” said Morrissey, who lives in Illinois now. “I tell everyone to have fun and enjoy this. That’s what it’s all about. They’ll remember this forever.”
And while Bobby Wunderlich loved the fraternity aspect of the week leading up to Saturday’s gridiron showdown, he was just as ecstatic to be given a second chance at a “final high school football moment.”
Wunderlich lept into the air with no time remaining in Saturday’s All Star Game to intercept the West’s last-ditch efforts at a victory.
He had secured the win for the East with one play.
“This is the best feeling ever, because me and my team lost in the first round of the playoffs this year,” said Wunderlich, a defensive back from Troy High School. “Now I get to end my high school career with a win and entering Grand Valley with the most confidence I’ve ever had. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I couldn’t be happier. The All Star Game is the best thing I could have ever been a part of.”
Gus Kapolka, the All Star Game’s gameday director, said the game itself is a tremendous showcase for high school football talent throughout the state of Michigan — able to see Division 1 kids playing next to some kids from the (Upper Peninsula) in their last football game ever.
“In that sense, it’s unique,” he said.
West head coach Rob Zimmerman said the All Star Game is so enjoyable because of the great character shown in all 88 players involved — making his job an absolute joy.
His competitor in Saturday’s contest — East head coach Jim Sparks — agreed, saying he’s spoiled to have such an incredible opportunity to be around “such talented young men.”
Fracassa said the All Star Game is a testament to Michigan’s high school football regime — full of not only great athletes, but great people too.
“We’re all about showing respect,” he said. “We battle it out on the field but afterwards, we’re one group.”
Also involved during Saturday’s festivities was the MSU Journalism Camp, maintaining a blog leading up to and during the game.
Check out the students game coverage at msujcamp.com.