( Photo Credit: Keymonn’e Gabriel sets sail on a 20-yard touchdown run. – Andre Smith photo)

For the first time in Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) football history, two Detroit based teams – Cass Tech and Loyola – appeared in the state Finals.

With the Division 7 championship on the line Loyola ran into a hungry Upper Peninsula (UP) team, Ispheming, that had won two State titles and knew how to get the job done.

The upstart Detroit squad had what appeared to be a better roster of athletes, but as is the case in sports the best, or perceived best team does not always win.

Showing guts and grit, Ispheming nursing a 20-14 lead and inches from a first down, late in the fourth quarter from its own 19-yard line, gambled for all the marbles and won them all.

If Loyola had shorted Ispheming, they would’ve likely have scored and left little time on the game clock, but the boys from the UP had what it took to get the job done.

With that first down Ispheming effectively squashed Loyola’s change at victory.

“I’m surprised I didn’t want to go for it right off the bat,” admitted Olson. “When we called time-out I said we’re going to punt it, and I think half of the guys said ‘no, we’re going for it.’ We always go for it on fourth-and-1. If someone offers us fourth and three inches for a state championship, I’m going to go for it.”

Ispheming would eventually have to punt, but the courageous play took valuable time off the clock and the 44-yard punt gave the Loyola (13-1) 72 hard yards to travel through instead of, say, 19.

That was not the only big play that Ispheming produced. With 5:36 to play in the game, the Hematites stopped Loyola and star runner Keymonn’e Gabriel (21 carries, 129 yards) at its own 8 yard line.

The final play of the third quarter saw Gabriel score from 20-yards out to make it 14-12 Bulldogs. But the team from up North had a never say die spirit.

Led by Eric Kostreva (182 yards on 20 carries) Ispheming held the ball for seven minutes in the third and cashed in on a two-yard TD run by Kostreva to lead 12-8. He added his third touchdown of the game, a 3-yard blast with 10 minutes left in the game. That last run would be all Ispheming would need to win the title.

“They just outplayed us,” Loyola coach John Callahan said in the post game press conference. “I thought they came ready to compete. There are no excuses. I think we got outplayed today, but we’re a young team. We plan on being back.”

A loss at this level is always a hurting thing especially at the moment of the occurrence. All the Loyola fans and players were distraught at knowing they were so close to making history. Yet so far!

“This program has come a long way,” said Principal Delisa Jones. “Sure we want to win, but I very proud of what these young men have accomplished.”

Gabriel said the he also though his team came out sluggish. “We need to come out from the snap playing Loyola football, but we did not for some reason.”

Said quarterback Toby Sharp: “We were not as physical as we should have been at the start. They threw the first punches and that put us on our heels. We did not play as good as we are capable of, but the senior have set the tone of the future of this program.”

There is a giant void left with the closing of Detroit Saint Martin DePorres, but it looks like Loyola has the players, coaches and administration to recreate one of the best private school programs in the city and state. Time will tell.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

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