Groves’ Rollercoaster of a Football Season

By Turner England

Photo by Caden Meyers

In a regular season game against Seaholm on October 9. Jackson Tinsley blocks a Seaholm defender on a bubble screen pass to Jaden Mangham. Tinsley creates a lane that Mangham runs through on the outside of Tinsley. Mangham takes that and creates an 8 yard gain.

On the second play against Farmington High, senior quarterback Jack woods took the snap, and the offensive line collapsed with Woods facing multiple Farmington defenders, hungry for the first sack on September 18. Woods found a gap and broke free down the right sideline, leaving the defense behind him. With this, Groves' second play went 57-years and a touchdown.

“At first I wanted to hit Jackson (Tinsley) on my canny route. It’s a three-step hitch, but he was covered and the line collapsed on me so I just took off and made a play. Because the line collapsed so quickly, I didn’t have time to look at my other reads, so I just tucked it and ran,” Woods said.

Groves added five more touchdowns and held a 42-31 lead, with two minutes left. Groves was confident in their two-score lead, but couldn’t give Farmington a chance to comeback.

“We felt secure, but we could not let them score because there was still time on the clock. There was like two or three minutes left and we knew we couldn’t let them score,” junior running back Stavros Panos said. “They were in the red zone, which means they’re inside the 20-yard line, and they threw it deep to the five-yard line to try to make a touchdown.”

Farmington in the red zone ready to score, Farmington called a pass to try to get them one step closer to the touchdown. The quarterback is snapped the ball, and took 2 steps back and lobbed the ball to a receiver covered by senior captain Jackson Tinsley. The ball was underthrown and Tinsley broke towards the ball and caught the ball for a game clinching interception.

I read the QB the whole way. I kinda knew where he was passing it so I adjusted my body and used my technique to break on the ball. Then, I actually ended up being more aggressive for the ball. I knew that the ball was a little under thrown for the receiver, so I made an effort to go towards the ball because it would be harder for the receiver to come back towards it. I just knew that if I got to the ball before the receiver, it would be really hard for him to make a play and if I could intercept it, that would seal the game. So, I went for the interception rather than the pass break up,” Tinsley said.

This 11 point win over division rival Farmington almost didn’t happen.

When the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world, the country went into lockdown, and there was no plan for the upcoming season. Players, fans, and even the coaches weren’t sure if they would play football this year. Head coach Brendan Flaherty didn’t think they were going to have a fall season in July.

“They just kept putting it off. That was before they talked about moving it to the spring. What swayed it back was other high schools and colleges from other states deciding to play. I was surprised they didn’t switch the spring and fall sports,” Flaherty said.

The teams were able to play fall sports once the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) mandated a number of safety measures: social distancing, wearing masks, no locker rooms, and capacity reductions.

“I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve been inside this year, and when we have, it has been with the doors open. Some restrictions we put on ourselves so we can ensure we stay healthy, knock on wood. We put it upon ourselves to be outside as much as we can and follow the restrictions,” Flaherty said.

With so many restrictions set, the players could not envision this season feeling normal, but Panos said the one constant was the game itself, with no rules or field changes despite Covid-19.

“Other than the masks, playing felt the same as it did other seasons. We can’t really have the whole locker room experience; otherwise, we have the same rituals that we usually do. We meet at the field the exact same times as we did last year, put our pads on, get taped up, and wear all the same gear. Running onto the field, minus the fans, we have the same environment.

Next week we are able to have fans again, which is big, but it is the same feel of getting to play football. Same motivation of listening to music, getting hyped, and trying to win games,” Panos said.

Once the date was finalized for the first game of the season, the team came alive, and their sights were set on a state title.

“We were motivated to win that state title. We felt we got robbed last year. We had a really talented team last year, but we just didn’t execute, so we really wanted it this year,” senior linebacker Kyle Coleman said.

Panos will never forget losing to Seaholm and how almost every player cried after that game.

“It was a heart wrenching moment, a stomach dropping moment. You realize that it is over and you have to wait a whole other year. And the worst part about it is all the seniors that I was playing with that year. I have been practicing with them for two years. We did speed training together. We did all that just to see our season end. It was awful,” Panos said.

With this season ending loss to Seaholm in last year's playoffs, revenge brewed in the Falcon’s minds on October 9 for a regular season game against Seaholm.

“The first Seaholm matchup was definitely the most exciting game. We beat them the last ten years, every single time we played them. Last year was the first year we lost to them. So the amount of motivation our team had going into this game made this one of our most exciting games of the season,” Panos said.

That game was a tight match. With two minutes left in the game, Seaholm scored a touchdown to make the score 35-21. Groves needed to score 2 touchdowns just to tie. Driving down the whole field, Groves got into the redzone. Senior quarterback Kaleb Garner took two steps back from the six yard line and lofted a pass to senior wide receiver Jaden Mangham. Mangham reached out and made an acrobatic catch in the back right corner of the endzone to cut the lead to one touchdown. With 51 seconds left, they needed to recover the onside kick, drive down field, score a touchdown, and go for 2. Groves didn’t recover the onside, and Seaholm ran the rest of the clock out, giving Groves their first loss of the season.

Photo by Caden Meyers

Senior wide receiver Jaden Mangham heads back to huddle for another red zone opportunity after an incomplete pass to Mangham, late in the 35-28 loss to Seaholm on October 9. On the next play senior quarterback Kaleb Garner lofts a pass to Mangham, Mangham reaches out and grabs the ball in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to make the score 35-28.

“The Seaholm game this year was tough because we had that game. We prepared; we prepare hard for every game. But we prepared the most for that game. It was the most intense week before the Seaholm game. We were full pads all week; we didn’t even have a walk-through day. All full pads, long practices. We were out late on the field. We put so much into it, and we were tied, like, all game, and they came up with a touch down in those last two minutes. It just killed us. After the game, we huddled-up, and the coach was talking to us. We were thinking, ‘Wow. We put in so much and we still lost,’” Panos said. “Coach Flaherty always says, ‘The only person we can lose to is ourselves.’ We did it to ourselves. We actually had them the whole game, but mental mistakes, not being focused the whole game. We did it to ourselves.”

Colman wanted revenge as much as Panos and felt just as disheartened at a second loss, but like Panos he refused to blame anyone but himself for that loss and to focus on how to play better in the future.

“Instead of turning on each other, blaming each other for different mistakes, we were like ‘ok, what can we do to fix this? What can we do to come together and be stronger and beat their a** next time, stop them next time? What are we going to do?’ We were talking to each other; we were in practice; we were giving it our all. We changed our mentality. We thought that we were a better team; we knew we were a better team than Seaholm. We just didn’t perform. So from that point on it was like, ‘okay, we’re gonna perform’. You go 100% in practice. There is no like half doing it. You go all the way, right. And so we came out, and we rebounded from that game,” Colman said.

After a 36-0 win over Avondale on October 30 in the first round of the playoffs, the stars aligned for Groves to play Seaholm on November 6.

“We blew out Avondale, our next game. And then we came back and we were like, ‘we have Seaholm now.’ Playing Seaholm again, being given that second chance, it just made us that much more driven. We were driven for that game. We wanted it. It brought us together. It made us push ourselves, more than we did before,” Coleman said. “We all have a common goal and sure as hell not gonna miss it. That’s what’s gonna happen, and when we walked in there, there was no fear. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that what was going to happen. We knew we were going to go in there and get the dub.”

Photo by Caden Meyers

Senior captain Jackson Tinsley checks with the ref to ensure proper positioning on the line of scrimmage, as he readies for the play. Tinsley’s focus leads to 2 touchdown catches in a 35-28 loss to Seaholm in the regular season on October 9.

At the start of the playoff game, Seaholm ran a trick play where the quarterback pitched the ball to the running back and the running back threw it to an open receiver. Mangham chased down the open receiver and stripped the ball from the receiver to give Groves possession.

“It was second down and normally Seaholm is a run team, so we were expecting a run play. They ran a toss, but it turned out to be a trick play where they tossed it to the running back, and he threw it to the wide receiver open downfield,” Mangham said. “So I turned around and ran as fast as I could to the open receiver. I was like, ‘oh I gotta strip him, just for payback from last time.’ I went in and I ripped it out and the ball came loose and we recovered it.”

On Groves’ next possession Garner threw a tunnel screen to Mangham. That he dropped, but Garner’s pass to Mangham was backwards which meant it was a fumble. Seaholm defender scooped up the dropped ball off the ground and trotted into the endzone.

Groves got the ball back and didn’t get anything going. Senior tight end and punter O’rion Kendra sent away a punt and it flipped the field, putting Seaholm on their own 20. Then, Seaholm did some of the same going 3 and out and set up to punt to Stavros Panos. Seaholm sent away a punt Panos’ way. Panos decided to let it bounce until it hit Senior Cornerback Cav Pettway’s back, which made it a live ball.

Panos picked up the bouncing ball on the left sideline and dashed across to the right sideline. Panos made a move and made a Seaholm defender miss. Panos was off with open field in front of him. Panos took it to the house with a roaring crowd coming from stands, and returned the punt 75 yards into the endzone, which was Groves’ first touchdown of the game.

“I called poison to my teammates to make sure they don't touch the ball but then, once it hit off of Cav’s back it's a live football, so the Seaholm guys are swarming them, all trying to get it. I was able to pick it up, fortunately. As soon as it hit off Cav’s back, I stopped contemplating whether or not I should pick the ball up or not, because it was a live ball I had to pick the ball up. When I picked it up, I saw the right side and there was no one really in front of me, except one guy, and I was able to take it out in a lot of space and made a good cut on him. I returned it for 75-yards,” Panos said.

Garner would add 2 more points to the scoreboard by pushing through the Seaholm defensive line to get into the endzone, converting the 2 point after touchdown (PAT) attempt.

“This play kind of put us back in the game and shifted the momentum because we're down to 0-7 and then we scored to make it 6-7. We ended up going for the two point conversion and that made it 8-7, so we took the lead and built some momentum. It pretty much shifted the whole game,” Panos said.

With the 1st half coming to an end, Groves started marching down the field. Groves entered the red zone. On second down Garner dropped back in the pocket and scanned the field. With little time left on the clock, Garner heaved it up to Kendra on a straight upfield route. Kendra came down with the catch in the back of the endzone for a 19 yard touchdown.

In the start of the 3rd quarter Groves with the momentum. Just outside of the red zone, Groves was starting to knock on the door.

At the 22 yard line the ball is snapped. Garner took it and immediately rolled out left. In front of him was Kendra, running a crossing route near the endzone. Kendra crossed in front of the safety and Garner hit Kendra in stride with no defenders in sight.

“We called pass play where I had a decently deep route, and I ran across the field. I got pretty open and there was a guy behind me and a guy in front of me, but KG our Quarterback was able to put it in the right space. Away from the defenders, and I caught it and then just turned and got in the endzone,” Kendra said.

With a 23-7 Groves lead, Seaholm started to mount a comeback. Seaholm scored a touchdown to cut the lead down to 9, early in the 4th quarter. After a Groves 3 and out, Kendra pins Seaholm deep in their own side of the field. After a long drive up field, Seaholm scored another touchdown, cutting Groves' lead to only 2. Seaholm decides to go for two. They line up as if they’re running the ball, but they are penalized for a false start and have to redo the play from the 8 yard line. They snapped the ball to their quarterback who pitched it to the running back out to the right. The running back muffs the pitch and Junior linebacker Joey Hess jumps on the loose ball to keep the lead, 23-21 Groves.

After yet another Groves 3 and out, Seaholm got the ball with a chance to win the game. Seaholm runs another trick play where the quarterback pitches the ball to the running back and the running back throws it to an open receiver. Seaholm has a chance to take the lead. While the ball was in the air, senior defensive back Myles Mooyoung and Mangham jumped the route. The Seaholm running back underthrew the receiver, and Mooyoung and Mangham are in position to catch the ball. Mooyoung comes down with it and dashes down the Groves sideline with blockers blocking as Mooyoung jumps into the endzone for a pick-six sealing the game at 31-21.

“To ice the game out, we were up by like two points, and they were trying to score. There was like 30 seconds left. They had the ball and our defense came up big the entire game. Their running back, he couldn’t throw. He threw the ball up and I looked back, cause I thought it was a toss so I went outside with my dude, but I looked back and saw. He threw the ball and I saw Myles and Mang there. They jumped the route. Myles came up and then they almost dropped it, they were fighting for the ball almost. Myles came up with it and he drove the ball down the field and we blocked for him and he iced the game out. That was within the last minute of the game and put us up by 8. We kicked the field goal; that made it 9, ending the game in victory,” Coleman said.

After a win over Seaholm, Groves advanced to the 3rd round of playoffs to play Warren Mott. As Groves prepared for the contest with Warren Mott, then at 5:02 pm on November 10, Athletic Director Tom Flynn sent the following email to all Groves staff and students.

Today, following conversations with MHSAA, it was determined that the Birmingham Groves Athletics Department incorrectly interpreted an eligibility rule. With this knowledge and subsequent conversations with the MHSAA, our governing body for high school sports, Groves Varsity Football will be forfeiting the next contest with Warren Mott and the Groves Football season will come to an end.” Athletics Director Thomas Flynn wrote. “We are extremely saddened that this has occurred, but thank our senior leadership and the dedicated coaching staff for all they have done this season. This is not an ideal way to end the season but we do hope our players can be proud of the work they put in and accomplishments they achieved this year.”

Coleman was disappointed by a season cut short after such a hard fought win against Seaholm in the playoff, but he appreciated the life lessons he learned this season.

“I have other aspirations and goals, other than football. I knew that high school would be the end of football for me, but, we all have different goals. A lot of dudes on the team could go to college for football, so that’s why it’s sad it ended this way,” Coleman said. “But what we learn from football runs through all of us. We learn from football responsibility and accountability. Coach Flaherty makes sure that no person can’t achieve alone and that you're stronger as a team. You have to take care of business, whether it’s in the weight room, the classroom, on the field, whatever, for the dude next to you. We learn from football and this season, that the path is bigger than just you and bigger than just one season.”

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