On a hot and humid late August night, the Gabriel Richard football team gave it a valiant shot, but came up short in its season-opener against Grosse Ile on Aug. 27.
The Pioneers scored first in the game and then led 21-20 just a minute into the second half but Grosse Ile, behind the punishing running of junior Brody Kellens and the timely passing of junior quarterback Travis Symons, prevailed 40-21.
Richard had a number of big plays in the game, but not enough to get past the Red Devils.
Richard’s first touchdown of the 2021 season was set up by a 38-yard pass from quarterback Nick Wisniewski to senior Luke Gordon, who made a fine over-the–shoulder catch at the Grosse Ile one-yard line. From there, Wisniewski snuck it in.
After falling behind 20-7, Richard got back on the scoreboard when senior Nick Szczechowski took a handoff, popped through the line, and raced 63 yards to the end zone.
Szczechowski, who plays safety on defense, is one of the area’s top overall athletes. He rushed for more than 500 yards last year and had 10 rushing touchdowns. He stepped in at quarterback for a game and threw for two touchdowns. On special teams he had 487 return yards and scored six times. On defense, he had 30 tackles and four interceptions, two of which were returned for six points.
It was 20-14 at halftime, but once the second half started, it only took Szczechowski 36 seconds to find his way back to paydirt.
The fast and shifty senior gained 16 yards on the first play of the second half and broke the second play 44 yards for another score. And, just like that, Richard had the lead.
It did not last.
From that point on the Grosse Ile defense stiffened and held the Pioneers scoreless over the course of the final 23 minutes of the game. On the other side of the ball, led by Kellem, the Red Devils seemed to get stronger and stronger
On a hot and humid night that saw numerous players go down with leg cramps, Kellems was an amazing workhorse. He carried the ball 29 times, gained 182 yards and scored three times.
Being the first game for each team and being played in suffocating weather, the contest was far from clean. Grosse Ile sputtered on its first two possessions of the night, but junior Tyler Swick gave the team a shot of adrenaline when he gathered in a Richard punt near midfield and returned it 50 years for the first touchdown of the season for the Red Devils.
There would be five more to follow and Swick got another of them when he hauled in an 18-yard scoring strike in the corner of the end zone from a scrambling Travis Symons.
Swick finished the night with five catches for 63 yards. He carried the ball three times for 11 more and had 106 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
The left-handed Symons, starting for the first time replacing the graduated Nate Brown, scored a rushing touchdown and was 9-for-17 passing for 120 yards.
Despite the loss, it was a good first game for the Pioneers, too, who showed determination and flashes of offense that could lead to many victories this year.
This is the first year since 2012 that Tom Michalsen is not at the helm for the Pioneers. Michalsen was 55-36 during his time at Gabriel Richard and his teams made six playoff appearances. The Pioneers are currently on a streak of four straight winning seasons and four straight playoff appearances.
With Michalsen gone, the new coach is Bill Miller, who was a longtime assistant on Coach Bob Czarnecki’s staff at Trenton High School. He left Trenton under unhappy circumstances.
Miller was a candidate for the head coaching job at Trenton when Czarnecki announced his retirement. Controversy ensued when both he and veteran Trenton assistant Aaron Segedi were passed over for a candidate with no varsity coaching experience.
The public outcry forced the Trenton administration to reopen its coaching search, but both Miller and Segedi declined to reapply and instead found a home at Gabriel Richard. Segedi is Miller’s defensive coordinator
Miller said his 2021 Richard squad is a mix of veterans and untested young talent.
“It’s kind of an interesting roster of players here for us,” he said. “We got some guys that are older and more experienced, then we have a mix of players who are young and have little to no experience. So yeah, we’re going to lean on the old guys. But the young guys are getting better.”
Week 2 brought a long trip to Clinton and the Pioneers first league game will be Sept,. 17 against Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard.