Gabriel Richard wins playoff game on late field goal

Hank Minckiewicz

Just by the nature of the Michigan High School Athletic Association state playoff system there are sometimes bad mismatches in first-round playoff games.

But sometimes the system works out just right.

That happened on Nov. 1 in Clinton when Gabriel Richard hooked up with the host Redskins in a terrific ball game.

Richard scored first in the opening quarter and Clinton tied the game. Clinton scored first in the third quarter and Richard tied it.

It was 14-14 down to the wire when Richard placekicker Ivan Hernandez won the game for the Pioneers 17-14 with a 25-yard field goal at the end of regulation time.

It was a thrilling end to  game between evenly matched foes. 

Clinton, the Tri-County League champion, came into the game with a 9-0 record. The Redskins had not been held to fewer than 34 points in any game this year and were averaging 47 points per outing.

But the Pioneers – 7-2 coming into the contest – had the defense to hold the Redskins down.

Richard scored on the first possession of the game. The Pioneers went 68 yards in four plays to get on the scoreboard. Nathan Palumbo, who is usually the battering ram in the Richard offense, this time got loose and sprinted 46 yards to the end zone to put his team up early.

But Clinton returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards to the Richard 40 and before you knew it, the Redskins were celebrating a score of their own.

After a gash run by Clinton got the ball to the Richard two, Noah DeShano carried it in.

It was 7-7 at halftime, but Clinton took the ball to open the second half and wound up scoring the go-ahead touchdown. The touchdown was set up by another good kickoff return, this one of 29 yards.

The Clinton drive covered 64 yards and lasted nine plays with Brayden Randolf going the last 26 yards to the end zone.

Richard answered a minute and a half later when quarterback Joe Wisniewski fired a 60-yard touchdown pass to Nick Szczechowski.

The game then developed into a defensive struggle with neither team able to put any points on the board until Hernandez delivered his decisive kick. 

The winning field goal capped a six-play march from the Clinton 45 to the Clinton 8-yard line. The key play on the drive was a 30-yard, third-down completion from Wisniewski to Quinn Hess. Hess finished the night with four catches for 80 yards. Wisniewski was 9-for-16 for 141 yards. Michael Holdsclaw was Richard’s leading rusher with 63 yards on 14 carries.

The Pioneers finished the game with 238 yards of total offense and Clinton had 263.

The victory was a salve for the Pioneers who came into the game fresh off a 27-6 loss to Everest Collegiate Academy in the Catholic League Intersectional championship game at Rynearson Stadium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.

Playing in a cold and constant downpour, Richard scored on its first play of the game, an 83-yard run by Holdsclaw and then never sniffed the end zone again.

The Pioneers had few answers for Everest junior quarterback Giovanni Mastromatteo. Mastromatteo hit receiver Joey Thibodeau for an 8-yard score for Everest’s first points in the second quarter and then found Thibodeau again with an 85-yard touchdown bomb in the third quarter. 

He scrambled nine yards for a score made it 20-7 and a 3-yard run by Jack Laceski capped the scoring.

It was the second year in a row that Richard was defeated by Everest in the CHSL championship game.

The Pioneers faced Jackson Lumen Christi in Jackson in the district round of the playoffs on Nov. 8. Lumen Christi came into the game with a spotless record and fresh off a 42-14 first-round playoff win over Homer.

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