on November 09, 2013 12:02 a.m.
ALMA, MI– Every time the Swan Valley crowd rises to its feet and screams at the sight of another impressive run from star running back Alex Grace, it’s a nice pat on the back for a job well done to his offensive linemen.
“When we hear those cheers for him, it’s like cheers for us,” senior left guard Anthony Martin said. “All of those numbers he puts up is what we take pride in as linemen.”
Swan Valley dominated the line of scrimmage and turned Friday’s Division 4 second-round football playoff game against Essexville Garber into a blowout by halftime. The Vikings cruised to the 54-28 win at Alma College. and it was never that close as the running-clock mercy rule was in effect with Swan Valley’s 44-6 halftime lead.
Grace, a finalist for the Michigan High School Player of the Year, didn’t touch the ball in the second half after posting 165 yards on 12 carries and four touchdowns in the first quarter and 19 carries for 262 yards and five touchdowns by halftime on Alma College’s artificial turf.
“It’s that offensive line. They were outstanding,” said Grace on how easy he found running room in the first half. “They were really hitting their blocks, and it felt good to be on turf.
“All of the credit is to those guys up front. Those holes were huge.”
Swan Valley slugged out a 14-13 win over Yale in last week’s playoff opener, scoring the game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes in a mucky, muddy mess at Heritage. Now the No. 1-ranked Vikings (11-0) advance to Lansing Sexton in the state quarterfinals after Sexton beat Lake Fenton 32-14 on Friday. The game will be played at Sexton, and the time and day has yet to be determined.
Grace opened Friday’s scoring with a 23-yard touchdown run and added a 41-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead.
Garber’s Noah Bargouthy returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown, but Grace responded on the next play with a 55-yard touchdown run. Ben Finzel, who made five extra point kicks and a 29-yard field goal to end the first half, scooped up a fumble and returned it to the Garber 4-yard line, and Grace scored on the next play for a 28-6 lead after one quarter.
Four touchdowns were scored in 1 minute, 27 seconds.
“We wanted to play on a good field this week, and we came out and executed,” Swan Valley coach Ken Bourbina said. “We knew each level is going to get tougher. We can’t expect games to start out like they did tonight.”
Swan Valley forced two fumbles in the first half, and the Vikings kept pressing with the offense. Grace scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 5:20 left in the first half, and Nick Call hit Alex Dils with a 12-yard touchdown pass with 2:55 left in the half. Finzel’s 29-yard field goal gave Swan Valley the 44-6 halftime lead as the Vikings outgained the Dukes 343-17 in total yardage in the first 24 minutes.
“We executed what we wanted to do on the defensive side pretty well,” Bourbina said. “We wanted to hold that pass game in check. (Garber receiver Simeon Berry) is a very good athlete and we did a good job on him until the subs came in late. We put (starting quarterback) Nick Call on him, and I thought he did a great job in coverage.”
After Swan Valley sophomore Justin Neilson booted a 37-yard field goal midway through the third quarter for a 47-6 lead, Garber quarterback Logan Martin scored on a 1-yard run before his two-point pass was intercepted.
Zach Fourman added a 3-yard touchdown run in the fouth quarter before Berry scored on an 80-yard touchdown on an end-around, and Bargouthy capped the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“We knew what was at stake, and that’s why this is so disappointing,” said Garber coach Jake Coquillard, whose team ends its season at 8-3. “Sometimes the night doesn’t go as planned – and that was certainly the case for us tonight.”
Martin finished 6 of 18 passing for 109 yards while Bargouthy had 68 yards on 12 carries. Berry finished with 76 yards on two carries and caught four passes for 92 yards.
Swan Valley finished with 365 rushing yards and outgained Garber 407-253 in total yardage.
“I hope we’re getting better,” Bourbina said. “As we go along, we have to get better and better because the games will get tougher.”