GREENVILLE — Two things always happen when a football game is decided in the final seconds. One team erupts into celebration while the other drops to its knees, heartbroken and defeated.
Those feelings are only compounded in the playoffs, when it’s do or die, and even more so in a championship game.
That’s what happened on Friday night at Legacy Field in Greenville, as the Deckerville Eagles held off a late comeback attempt by the Bellaire Eagles for a 14-12 victory in the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s (MHSAA) 8-player football state final game.
This was the first MHSAA playoff game played on Legacy Field, which was completed this summer.
Deckerville — outgained by Bellaire by 417 total yards to 239 — made the plays all night when they counted. The Eagles forced four turnovers and made two goal-line stands, the final one to seal their first 8-player state title.
“I’m impressed to win it the way it just happened, but I wouldn’t expect it any other way with this group,” Deckerville coach Bill Brown said.
Deckerville looked to be in control of its victory with a 14-6 lead with just 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
That wasn’t the case, as Bellaire needed just three plays and 26 seconds to score on a 52-yard touchdown reception by Wes Villafane to pull within 14-12.
With both crowds on their feet, Chase Small took the option pitch from quarterback Zach Smith and raced toward the pylon. Deckerville’s Ryan Stone beat Small to the corner to stop play just inches shy of a game tying two-point conversion.
Stone, who injured his shoulder on the play, also intercepted a pass and scored the game-winning touchdown.
“He is doing one heck of a job. He wasn’t sure he wanted to come up as a sophomore this year,” Brown said of Stone. “He came up and was a great addition to our team.”
With 49 seconds remaining, all that remained for Bellaire was a desperation onside kick. The line-drive kick bounced off the leg of a Deckerville player and was recovered by Bellaire’s Richard Winslow.
After an incomplete pass, Smith gained 21 yards. Villanfane followed that with a 31-yard reception to the Deckerville four-yard line with just 22 seconds left.
Bellaire had no timeouts remaining and rushed to the line. The Eagles ran an option left but was stopped by the Deckerville defense short of the goal line with eight seconds left. Bellaire did not have enough time to run another play. One team celebrated while the other team kneeled in battle-riddled defeat.
Friday’s final was a great showcase for MHSAA’s 8-player football. It was also a showcase of Legacy Field to the state of Michigan as the game was broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit Plus.
Fox Sports announcer Rob Rubick said both team’s were well coached.
“These are two well coached teams. One runs the veer and the other the Wing-T,” Rubick said. “They both had to adapt their offenses to 8-player football. They are both difficult to defend, but both teams are well coached.”
Small finished the game with 149 yards rushing, while Smith finished with 116 yards on the ground and 117 from the air.
Chris Wolfe led Deckerville with 108 yards rushing and one touchdown.
Smith scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter as Bellaire led 6-0 at halftime.
Bellaire finished the season 9-4. Deckerville — in its first season of 8-player football — finished 12-1, but, most importantly, they were the team enjoying the celebration.