The score was tied at 28-28 with just 2:31 remaining in a see-saw game for the Division 2 state title.
Brother Rice's Jason Alessi, who appeared gassed after an afternoon of running down Muskegon ball carriers at free safety — including two touchdown-saving tackles, drifted a few yards behind fellow return man Delano Madison on the opposite side of where the ball was going on the field. He looked like he was out of play, like he wanted nothing to do with the Muskegon Big Reds kickoff-coverage unit headed in his team's direction at full speed, and with all the momentum after just scoring the tying touchdown.
Madison caught the kick off at the 5-yard line and scampered to about the 10-yard line before firing the ball across the field in a rare backward-lateral pass to Alessi, who immediately turned upfield. With a few blockers ahead of him, Alessi raced to the sideline, then cut back to the middle of the field and accelerated all the way to the end zone untouched for a shocking, game-winning score.
The 91-yard kick off return secured the school's 8th state title and first in consecutive seasons. Not bad for arguably the school's best lacrosse player, who is committed to play lacrosse for the University of Michigan.
“It’s go big or go home," the excited Bloomfield Hills resident said of the play during the post-game press conference. "There was a huge risk and a huge reward."
He acknowledged the Warriors practiced it and planned to try the trick kickoff play earlier in the game, but instead played it safe until Muskegon's final touchdown. He also said he tried to maintain the element of surprise as long as he could.
"At first I was like: 'Oh crap, hopefully they don't see it so I don't catch it, turn around and get smoked,' " he told the Detroit Free Press. "I caught it, turned around and there was no one there. It was a perfect pass by him, and Jon Reschke and Greg Marzec were out in front of me blocking."
In addition to the touchdown and his five extra-point kicks, Alessi recorded 12 tackles, 10 of which were solo.
It was quite a finish to a football career that didn't take shape until last season, when the Warriors were mired in a losing streak and couldn't seem to get coach Al Fracassa his 400th career win. The football captains cornered Alessi, who joined the team in week eight and helped the program win their remaining games all the way to the state title in 2011.
"It was almost like I was going to let my whole school down because football at Rice is huge," Alessi told the Detroit Free Press. "You never want to see Rice lose football games, especially in that manner. Everyone is down in the school if we lose. I felt obligated, almost to do it."
Patch contributor Chris Wall assisted with this report.
This story is updated to reflect Alessi is a junior.