Sabers fall one score short of Sacred Heart in shootout

Manistee Catholic Central’s Alex Carter (8) breaks the tackle from Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Brooks Hyble during the first half of Friday’s game at Saber Stadium. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — There was no shortage of fireworks in the Saber Stadium opener on Friday night.

Nine touchdowns, 26 first downs, 59 points and nearly 650 yards of offense.

And that was just the first half.

Unfortunately for Manistee Catholic Central, the home team fell one bullet short in a shootout.

Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart scored first and last and got just enough stops in between in order to hold on for a 49-41 win against the Sabers.

“I really wish we would have received (the opening kickoff) and got ahead first,” said MCC senior Jesse Miller. “I feel that whoever scored first would have won. They’re a good team, but I feel we could have beat them.”

The Sabers (1-1) played catch-up all night long before turning it over late and allowing the Irish (1-1) to grind out the clock for their seventh straight win in the rivalry.

“That’s a very good football team, probably the best they’ve had here in four or five years, I think,” said Sacred Heart coach Rick Roberts. “They came to play.”

Essentially, neither team could handle the other’s offense. Sacred Heart threw at will out of its spread offense while MCC plowed through the heart of the Irish defense.

“Today you saw a very good spread offense by Mount Pleasant,” said MCC coach Dave Russell, “but we were more of a power team and they had a hard time stopping us.”

The Sabers and Irish combined for 43 first downs, 90 points and 1,027 yards of offense from scrimmage.

“It was a shootout at the O.K. Corral,” Russell said.

The Irish fired the first shot by marching 73 yards on 13 plays, capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Myler to Brooks Hyble. Myler finished the game 27-for-37 passing for 403 yards and four touchdowns, to go with one on the ground as well.

“We have a very good offensive team,” Roberts said. “We can it, throw it, spread it and that’s going to make it difficult.”

MCC answered with a 14-play march that covered 77 yards and closed as junior quarterback Alex Bialik pushed through the defense for a 1-yard touchdown as the Sabers knotted the score at 7 with 2:13 left in the first quarter.

The Irish went to the air to take a 14-7 lead while the Sabers responded with a punishing ground assault in which Miller literally dragged five defenders on his back en route to an 11-yard pickup.

Miller finished with 20 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Two plays later, Bialik tucked the ball for a keeper around the right side and worked through a few tacklers for a 19-yard touchdown run. He finished with 16 rushes for 83 yards and a pair of scores on the ground while also going 7-for-8 in the air for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The Sabers trailed 14-13 with 11:01 left in the second quarter because the extra point was blocked. Sacred Heart led the rest of the game.

“The extra points gave us a little bit of a cushion,” Roberts said.

Sacred Heart popped a screen pass for a 63-yard touchdown and MCC mounted a nine-play, 83-yard drive that featured Bialik being flagged for hurdling a defender.

Alex Carter finished off the drive with an impressive, refuse-to-go-down 9-yard touchdown run as the Sabers pulled within a point at 20-19. Carter finished with 15 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown.

After another Irish touchdown drive keyed through the air, Bialik connected with Jack Howard for a 20-yard catch, then Ben Feliczak used a one-handed catch to haul in a 28-yard touchdown.

The Irish scored with 1:07 left in the first half for a 34-25 lead while Bialik was picked on fourth down with 10 seconds left.

MCC came out of the second half with a three-and-out to give the ball back to the Irish.

“I thought we should have come out with a lot more energy after the half knowing we’re down a touchdown,” Bialik said. “We were moving the chains all night long and that one stop just kind of took it out of us.”

But, the Sabers got their lone stop of the game against the Irish — who never punted — on the next series by forcing a turnover on downs.

Four plays later, Miller pounded out a 48-yard touchdown run down the left sideline, then ran in the 2-point conversion as the Sabers were again within a point at 34-33 with 5:24 left in the third quarter.

Sacred Heart followed with a touchdown and 2-point conversion of its own, but Miller answered with a 10-yard score on fourth-and-5, making it 42-41 with 10:35 to play.

The MCC defense, which was led by Jason Kaminski with 15 tackles and Carter with 14, desperately needed to get the ball back, other than via a kickoff.

“I know we would have scored if we got a stop again and went ahead,” Miller said. “We all tried our hardest to get a stop but couldn’t do it.”

The Irish converted on third-and-11 — on a pass that went through one receiver’s hands and into another’s — and fourth-and-4 en route to a 3-yard touchdown run by Nick Hire for the 49-41 lead with 7:09 to play.

Hire then forced Miller into a fumble on the Irish 34 and Sacred Heart was able to kill the clock.

“Jesse Miller played an extremely hard game, they all did,” Russell said. “That was a tough game and a lot of times you learn from this in a positive direction.”

The Irish got in the first punch and the last for the decision, but wouldn’t mind a rematch.

“I said let’s do this again Week 10 or 11,” Roberts recalled, “but this time it will be in Mount Pleasant.”

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