By Joe Kozinski
Outlined against the storied, blue-grey October sky that settles in the St. Joseph valley, two teams met on Sunday, Oct. 30, to crown the Inter-City Catholic League champion at Marian High School.
The talented and physical squad of St. Anthony’s Panthers tested its resolve against the upstart Blazers of St. Matthew, who miraculously won the first meeting in the final moments of the game, creating a three-way tie for the regular season championship.
The Panthers showed their might early, pounding the ball at the black swarm defense by using a myriad of players; Charlie Peterson, Luke Thomas, Brandon Prokop, Eddie Arevalo and Walter Wesson, to march 11 plays until the ball lay at the 3.
The maroon-and-gold clad platoon punched the ball in, and a kick from the big leg of Charlie Leonard made the score 8-0 just seven minutes into the game. The Blazers couldn’t answer back, as the exuberant Panther defense, led by their dominating lineman Michael Conery, held. The Panthers, relying on Peterson and Thomas, stormed into the red zone, only to lose the ball at the 9-yard line.
The usually resilient St. Matthew offense looked as if it was stuck in the mud against the Panther defense. Peterson made short work of the opportunity and this time finished the drive, making the score 14-0 still in the first quarter.
St. Matthew would figure out the defensive adjustment, but never the offensive nuances that would penetrate the Panther wall. Neither team could produce a drive of any merit going into halftime.
It took the Blazers almost the entire third quarter to pierce the armor of Panthers, but with 22 seconds left, heralded quarterback Bryce Martens called his own number, cut back on a dime and dashed 35 yards to pay dirt, narrowing the margin 14-6.
St. Anthony looked like it was back in business, as Prokop found a receiver wide open for 20 yards. However, the talented Blazer linebacker Isau Gonzalez stripped the ball from the ball carrier and sprinted in the opposite direction, getting tackled inside the Panther 30. The unthinkable then happened with just over seven minutes left in the contest: Martens, trying for extra yardage, lost the football, relinquishing possession and, more importantly, momentum.
The Panthers turned to their bread and butter, handing off to Peterson and chewing away the clock. But after five plays, they found themselves with a fourth down at 11 to go when Prokop found Collin Suth with a bullet pass. Unfortunately, he was wrestled down two yards short of the line to gain. With 2:49 left in the ball game and starting on their own side of midfield, the Blazers would have a mountain to climb.
The drive would start off with an unorthodox, two-handed toss from Martens to Gonzalez for 10 and then a couple of plays, leaving the Blazers with a fourth and 9 and almost out of gas.
The resourceful quarterback found Mitchell Menting alone for a 20-yard crucial pickup, moving the chains. On the next play, Martens bolted free for a 19-yard touchdown, making the score 14-12 with 1:02 to play.
The Blazers kicking game has failed them all season long, but nonetheless, Gonzalez lined up for the biggest boot of his life. When the referee held up both hands signaling the extra-points try was true, jubilation filled the St. Matthew side of the field. The score was tied 14-14.
The Panthers of St. Anthony were not done. They promptly hit a huge pass and catch play between Prokop and Suth, giving themselves a first down on the Blazers’ 29 with 45 seconds left.
The Panthers boasted the best kicker in the league in Leonard: They knew that if they could get close, his foot could be the key to victory.
On the next play, Prokop zeroed in on a wide-open Thomas at the 12 and let it fly. The ball hung up for what seemed an eternity. What happened next would decide the championship.
Out of nowhere, Martens snatched the victory from the Panthers and raced 78 yards, weaving in and out of defenders and giving the Blazers an unbelievable, come-from-behind championship.
“What I can say is, Bryce was everywhere. We had three close games in a row that came down to the last possession, and our experience in those games, I think, made the difference,” remarked Blazer Coach Ben Domonkos. “We knew they had a kicker, and we had struggled; so Sister Gianna Marie worked with Isau for the last two weeks on extra points, and it made the difference.”
“This is disappointing, but I think our kids played fantastic and until the end. I’m very proud of this group,” added Panther Coach Jason Piontek. “We worked at stopping Martens, and effectively did it for most of the game. He’s just a special player that gives a creative dimension to their team.”
After the championship game, an annual trophy is presented to a player from each team who exemplifies mental attitude and the culmination of hard work, leadership and determination. This year’s Bill Sorukas awards went to Blazer Bryce Martens and Panther Cole Chrzan.
The fifth- and sixth- grade league also crowned its champion on Oct. 30, at St. Anthony’s: Andrew Zetterman bulldozed his way over the goal line in overtime, giving the Panthers a 6-0 win over the Saints of Mishawaka Catholic.
The CYO-ICCL championship game will be held Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph High School. The runners-up will play following the title game, at 4 p.m.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.