Sexton lost just one football game all year.
Unfortunately for the Big Reds, it came in the Division 4 state semifinal on Saturday, ending an otherwise dream season and first-ever potential storybook trip to Ford Field.
Marine City (12-1) used an opportunistic defense and a ball-control offense to down Sexton 12-7 at Ortonville Brandon High School.
The Mariners earned their third trip to Ford Field in the past seven years by taking the ball away from the Big Reds three times, then keeping it to themselves. Marine City ran 72 plays from scrimmage for 315 yards of total offense, while limiting Sexton to 32 plays and 163 yards.
“Unfortunately we had three turnovers,” Sexton coach Dan Boggan said. “Two on big drives, one inside the 15 the first series of the game, then when we were moving the ball inside their 35. You just can’t have big turnovers in big games like this.
“We had three turnovers and they had none and it cost us. It cost us big time.”
The Mariners’ Joe Mazure intercepted a Malik Mack pass in the end zone on the game’s opening drive. Then late in the second quarter, Mazure tipped a Sexton pass that was gathered in by teammate Pete Patsalis that he returned to the Big Reds’ 24 to set up Marine City’s first score.
The third turnover came on Sexton’s opening drive of the second half. As Mazure was tackling running back Avonte’ Bell, he stripped the ball and recovered it all in one motion, at the Mariners’ 30-yard line. Sexton (12-1) had just two more possessions the rest of the game.
Sexton scored first on a 45-yard pass from Mack to Javon Cooney with 6:26 remaining in the second quarter. The extra-point kick by Nate Emens was the last of the scoring for the Big Reds.
Sexton had a 41-yard touchdown called back late in the first quarter on an illegal shift penalty call. The officials also mistakenly took the down away from Sexton, which eventually had to punt.
“Huge penalty on that call back on the touchdown, which (the refs said) the quarterback was moving,” Boggan said. “He wasn’t moving, and that one hurt.”
Marine City scored on a 4-yard rushing touchdown by Tait Sapienza (161 yards rushing) with 1:32 left until halftime. Then his 2-yard rushing TD to open the second half on an 11-play drive ended the scoring.
“I think we won the line of scrimmage,” Marine City coach Ron Glodich said. “I think they had a challenge running the ball against us and towards the end of the game we were able to run the ball a little bit.
“I think that was the key to the game. They’ve got speed, they’ve got weapons.”
Boggan was gracious in defeat and gave the players a heartfelt speech in their closing huddle on the frozen turf.
“Marine City played a great game,” he said afterward. “They played tough and they made plays when they had to. They definitely ate up the clock and controlled the ball. No doubt about that.
“It’s been a phenomenal season,” Boggan added. “They have nothing to hold their heads down about. They had a great year. We’ve done something that no school in the Lansing School District has ever done, and that’s win 12 games. We won the conference championship.
“We’re the smallest school in the area and we played night in and night out schools that are 300, 1,000, 1,500 enrollment bigger than us and we held our own and then some. So I’m really proud of them. We faced the giants every day.”