By Hank Minckiewicz
– Riverview Register
The Gabriel Richard Pioneers went all the way to the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 7 state regionals last year before falling to eventual state runner-up Madison Heights Madison.
If they hope to come close to matching that this year, they will need to replace some valuable graduated seniors and get contributions from some new players.
“This is kind of a mixed team,” Coach Tom Michalsen said. “We have some seniors and a younger group of guys.
“We have a lot of guys who may not have played a lot of football, but who are really good athletes. This is one of the most athletic groups I have seen here. And it’s a close-knit bunch. They are always together.”
Something new this year will be Richard throwing the ball around a little more. Last year it was wing-t, wing-t and a little more wing-t, but Michalsen said his team will have a different look this year.
“We’ve upgraded our schedule a little, so we can’t just muscle every opponent like we’ve tried to do in the past,” he said.
To carry out the new plan, the Pioneers have turned to junior quarterback Joe Wisniewski, who Michalsen said can run and throw the ball.
“Joe has really good arm strength and he’s done a good job in the weight room. He’s worked on that pretty extensively,” said the coach.
Other key players, according to Michalsen are senior fullback Nathan Palumbo, two-way junior lineman Mario Disanto, junior running back Michael Holdsclaw and sophomore linebacker Ethen Mehall. Michalsen said Palumbo, “gets the hard yards,” Holdsclaw “is a home run hitter,” Mehall “makes plays from sideline-to-sideline.”
As far as the Catholic League Intersectional-1 Division goes, Michalsen said it likely will come down to the Pioneers and Macomb Lutheran North. Last year Richard beat Lutheran North in a wild 57-54 game and went on to play in the Cathlolic League finals, where they lost a one-point decision to Everest Academy just before embarking on their state playoff run.
This year, the two teams will meet Sept. 27.
The Pioneers played Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook on Sept.13 and will face Grosse Pointe University Liggett on Sept. 20.
Gabriel Richard 21, Grosse Ile 15
Last year, the Grosse Ile Red Devils won their season-opener by holding off a late charge by the Gabriel Richard Pioneers. This year, on Aug. 30, the Pioneers returned the favor.
The Pioneers built a 21-8 lead early in the second half and held off the Devils as they tried to rally in the fourth quarter.
Leading 21-15 with just over a minute to play, Richard senior Robbie Henderson picked off a Nathan Brown pass deep in Gabriel Richard territory to lock up the victory.
Henderson’s pick was one of four on the night for the Gabriel Richard defense.
Richard scored first in the game and trailed only briefly and by just one point.
The game’s first points came on Richard’s initial possession of the 2019 season as the Pioneers marched 56 yards for a score. Quinn Hess caught a beautifully thrown 23-yard pass from quarterback Joe Wisniewski.
Ater Grosse Ile answered and went ahead with a two-point conversion, Richard took the lead for good when Nathan Palumbo crashed in from the two-yard line, capping a 37-yard march that was set up by an Ethen Mehall interception.
Richard then essentially won the game on the first play of the second half when sophomore Nick Szczechowski gathered in Joey Pizzo’s kickoff and bolted straight through the mass of players and went 98 yards for the touchdown. He was barely touched.
“That’s the way we try to run our kickoffs,” said Richard’s Michalsen. “We want to hit up there quick and see what opens up.”
Not much else happened in the second half until late in the fourth quarter when Brown, who had 243 passing yards, caught lightning in a bottle and completed a 55-yard pass to the Richard five-yard line. From there, Pizzo ran it in and suddenly it was a close game with 3:21 to play.
Grosse Ile held Richard to a three-and-out and, after a punt, took possession on the Richard 44 with just over a minute left on the clock. On the first play of the drive, Brown threw it deep, but the only hands he found were Henderson’s
2019 Gabriel Richard Pioneers Roster
- Luke Gordon
- Quinn Hess
- Matt Maki
- Drew Daiek
- Travis Liptezky
- Nic Wisniewski
- Joe Wisniewski
- Ethen Mehall
- Robbie Henderson
- Miguel Cantu
- Nick Szczechowski
- Joseph Sawicki
- Michael Holdsclaw
- Carson Sollars
- Trevor Coleman
- Vincent Palumbo
- Aidan Olle
- Matt Mann
- Trevor Coleman
- Ian McGunagle
- Nathan Palumbo
- Ivan Hernandez
- Josh Mcbain
- Ben Carey
- Lenny Fritz
- Aramis Lackey
- Hunter Hastings
- Nic Disanto
- Alex Jehavarian
- Mario Disanto
- Brendan Hills
- Michael Norscia
- Ismael Hernandez
- John Mastrogiacomo
- Brian Barkley
- Paul Mann
- Alex Mastrogiacomo
- Kenny Esquible
- Mateo Gonzales
- Gabe Parks