Just as San Francisco 49ers fans remember The Catch, so will Portland Raider fans long remember The Pass.
Portland quarterback Tanner Allison found Auston Brandt on a 94-yard touchdown pass that gave the Raiders all the points that they would need to bring home the 2012 Division 5 state football championship with a 12-9 win over Grand Rapids West Catholic on Saturday at Ford Field.
The title is Portland’s first team state championship in any sport in school history, the importance of which Raider coach John Novara suspected his team did not immediately grasp.
“I don’t think it’s really hit them yet, that they’ve won a state championship,” Novara said.
“I’m going to have to tell them that this doesn’t happen all the time.”
The pass gave Portland (13-1) a 12-0 lead and capped off a sequence that could easily have turned the momentum in West Catholic’s favor. The Raiders were facing a second down and 10 on their own 6-yard line, when a wide-open Brandt had dropped a sure touchdown pass at midfield the play before.
On the next play, the Falcon pass rush got to Allison, and with a West Catholic player draped on him seemingly on the way to a sack near the goal line, he found Brandt on a desperation heave.
“I saw them blitz and knew that the play was blown up right away,” Allison said.
“I was actually getting tackled and I was just trying to throw the ball away.”
Instead Allison and Brandt provided a play for the ages, and entered the MHSAA record books with the third-longest touchdown pass in the history of the state finals.
Portland had taken the lead on its first possession when Allison capped off a 13-play, 83-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard sneak that made the score 6-0 with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
While the pass will likely be the moment most remembered by Raider fans, Portland’s defense was the story of the game.
The Raiders had three interceptions in the first half, by Randy Gensterblum, Logan Seal and Adam Goodman, but led by just five points at the break.
The Falcons made the score 12-7 with a 9-yard touchdown run by Andy Corey with 1:02 left in the first half.
West Catholic missed a 27-yard field goal with 3:21 left in the third quarter, and did manage to score points in the fourth with a sack of Allison in the end zone for a safety by Mitch Stanizek, but Portland made all the plays that they needed to on defense.
The Falcons had the ball inside the Portland 10-yard line three times in the game, but came away empty on two of them.
“We knew going in that it would be a tough, physical game,” West Catholic coach Dan Rohn said.
“I think we left some points out on the field, and that obviously hurt us.”
West Catholic also pitched a shutout in the second half. Allison had 45 yards rushing for the Raiders, who gained just 52 yards on the ground as a team in the second half.
“That’s the best defense we’ve seen all year long,” Novara said. “We’ve been able to move the football on just about everybody, but they just did a great job.”
Portland made what could have been a fatal error when Caleb Hickling fumbled the ball away on the Falcon 32 with 4:27 left in the game to set up a heart-stopping finish.
West Catholic drove down to the Raider 10 with 2:05 left , but could not score, coming up short of the end zone on a 2-yard pass on fourth down with 50 seconds on the clock.
“We held a very prolific offense to just seven points,” Novara said. “We just kept battling all night long.”