McCabe: Cunningham's 'greatest play ever' gives OLSM state title

A football lays on the field in view of the end zone at a high school.

A football lays on the field in view of the end zone at a high school.

Muskegon’s La’Darius Jefferson scored on a three-yard run with 1:55 left to play late Saturday night and it appeared that finally Orchard Lake St. Mary’s reign as Division 3 state champ was about to end.

But on first down from the St. Mary’s 20, Muskegon was penalized 15 yards for pass interference. On the next play, junior RaShawn Allen ripped off a 22-yard run to move into Muskegon territory and suddenly Muskegon’s 28-23 lead didn’t look so safe.

St. Mary’s junior quarterback Caden Prieskorn converted a third-down pass to junior Ky’ren Cunningham for nine yards with 55 seconds left. Prieskorn then scrambled for four yards and a first down at the Muskegon 18, and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 10 seconds remaining.

As they broke the huddle, Cunningham, a running back who had caught two passes, told receiver Clay Antishin, who had caught six, to switch places with him and take the inside spot while Cunningham split to the outside.

“I was to throw it up to the outside wide receiver,” said Prieskorn, a transfer from Lake Orion. “I thought it was going to be Clay, but Ky’ren switched with Clay.”

Cunningham wasn’t sure who the intended receiver would be until he saw the way the Muskegon defense was aligned.

“It was one-on-on,” Cunningham said. “Everywhere else there was a guy over top and the safety didn’t come over top so I think Caden knew to just throw it up.”

Prieskorn had been throwing the ball to Cunningham since the two began playing organized football together in the second grade.

With the ball in the air, two defenders closed in on Cunningham, but the deep back appeared to be frozen in time. Cunningham darted in front of him, jumped in the air and came down with the ball with 0:04 left on the clock.

“The guy overplayed the ball, I cut back, went up for it, grabbed it, came down, didn’t see any flags,” Cunningham said. “It was the greatest play I ever made in my life.”

It would have been the greatest play in a lot of people’s lives, giving St. Mary’s a 29-28 victory for its third consecutive state championship.

The game capped a weekend of one-sided games that lacked the type of drama you would expect on a championship weekend.

But the Division 3 final had enough thrills to make up for some of the noncompetitive blowouts.

Prieskorn was 13-for-21 for 200 yards and two touchdowns and St. Mary’s coach George Porritt couldn’t recall the last time one of his quarterbacks threw for 200 yards.

“It’s probably been awhile,” he said. “Usually when I throw over 15 times, we lose.”

St. Mary’s, only the fifth team to win a state championship after losing four games, could have lost this game to an extremely talented Muskegon team that featured the sensational Kalil Pimpleton.

Muskegon quarterback Kalil Pimpleton, center, practices during the teams last day of two-a-days at Muskegon.

Muskegon quarterback Kalil Pimpleton, center, practices during the teams last day of two-a-days at Muskegon.

He started the game at quarterback, but also played running back and in the slot. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 58 yards, carried the ball nine times for 56 yards and caught three passes for 88 yards.

“I knew this Muskegon team was going to be the best team we’d ever seen,” said St. Mary’s all-state linebacker Josh Ross. “We knocked off a great team. These guys can hang around with anybody in the state. That (Pimpleton), he can move. He’s a great player.”

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Big Reds, but in the end St. Mary’s made the most of what it had.

“We were down, we had a two-minute drill to make a play and we all made plays,” Prieskorn said. “Our athletes made plays. RaShawn made plays on ‘21 traps, 22 traps;’ everything was just a success. We made a play at the end to win the game.”

Attendance down: People claiming the Big Ten’s move to play games on Friday nights will hurt high school football are only partly correct.

The worst thing the Big Ten could do to hurt high school football in Michigan already happened. It occurred when bye weeks were added after the Big Ten pushed the last week of the regular season to Thanksgiving weekend, which is when the Michigan High School Athletic Association plays its eight championship games, spread over two days at Ford Field.

The Michigan-Ohio State game attracted the largest TV audience for a game that began at noon since records were kept and we knew that by the attendance at Ford Field for Saturday’s four championship games.

The crowd Saturday was only 18,029, worst ever for four games at either the Silverdome or Ford Field. The two-day attendance of 38,498 was the worst total since 1989, when there were only four championship games.

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.

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