The toughest assignment Saturday night was not trying to stop the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s powerful running game, led by Grant Niemiec, nor was it attempting to score against St. Mary’s stingy defense, led by … Grant Niemiec.
No, the most difficult thing was to get Niemiec to talk about the best player on the field … Grant Niemiec.
“You know, there were a lot of big plays,” he said. “I didn’t have any good plays because it’s the whole team.
Really? That was news to anyone who witnessed St. Mary’s convincing 24-14 victory over Birmingham Brother Rice (4-2, 2-1 Catholic League).
Niemiec, a 6-feet, 218-pound running back/linebacker, ran for 85 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns. Those are not eye-popping stats, but this was against a rugged Rice defense and each yard should have counted as 3.
But more important than his yardage total was the timing of his clutch runs. When the Eaglets (5-1, 2-0) needed a first down, Niemiec got it.
Early in the fourth quarter, St. Mary’s led, 10-7, when he gained 9 yards and followed it with two runs of 5 yards apiece. Then he broke through the line of scrimmage for a 28-yard TD run and a 17-7 advantage.
He also made three spectacular plays defensively, but none bigger than midway through the third quarter when Rice’s Brian Walker caught a pass coming out of the backfield on a fourth-and-8 play with St. Mary’s leading by three points.
The only player within shouting distance of him was Niemiec, who made the solo stop for a 5-yard gain and gave St. Mary’s the ball.
“I just did my job,” he said. “It was my one-11th.”
Yeah, right. It was more like his 11/11th on that play.
“We’ve got to swarm to the ball,” he said. “Everyone does their job. In that situation, I just had to close the play out, and I did.”
And what would have happened if Niemiec had not done his job?
“He scores,” Niemiec admitted, reluctantly. “And it’s a different ballgame.”
But it wasn’t a different ballgame because Niemiec did his job and the job of anyone else who might not have done his job on a particular play.
“He’s a true football player,” said St. Mary’s coach George Porritt. “He’s a tough, rugged football player. That’s the type of kid he is. He just loves to play the game.”
Niemiec appreciates good football, and that is why he could appreciate what happened when Rice senior quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria was injured and replaced for a play by sophomore Alex Malzone. Malzone took his first snap, dropped back and lofted a perfect 48-yard TD pass to Walker to make it a 17-14 game with 9:37 left to play.
“That was definitely a swing of momentum, but we bounced back and had some good defensive stands — as a team,” Niemiec said. “We played real well.”
Niemiec (who else?) closed out the game with another 1-yard TD run with 2:47 left to play to complete quite a two-game swing for St. Mary’s.
A week ago, the Eaglets, the defending Division 3 state champs, knocked off Detroit Cass Tech, the defending D-1 champ. And this night they beat Rice, the defending D-2 champ.
And they did it without any semblance of letdown.
“There definitely could have been a hangover,” said Niemiec. “We had to focus on not focusing in on that last game the whole week. We had to get focused on this game because it’s a huge game. We couldn’t stay in the past.”
Nobody was in the present more than Niemiec.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
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