YPSILANTI – The first game of the football season is usually a good draw no matter where the contest, but some schools may worry about sending their student athletes and fan base roughly an hour’s travel time away to open a season with high expectations. Not Brother Rice.
Limited by seating and parking constraints at Fracassa Field in Bloomfield Hills, the Warriors and legions of fans are used to traveling somewhere on fall Saturdays to maintain years of tradition. And they don’t mind doing it.
“We make every game or at least try not to miss a game every season,“ David Poulsen of Port Huron said as he carried a 25-foot-tall pole bearing both the Brother Rice and American flags through the parking lot at Rynearson Stadium on Saturday. The team was on the Eastern Michigan University campus as part of the Big Day Prep Showdown, which showcased eight games between some of best programs and top talent from across the state over a three-day period.
Poulsen admits his dedication to the team is helped fueled by his wife, Gina, the niece of legendary Brother Rice Head Coach Al Fracassa, now in his 42nd season at the helm. While Poulsen acts as unofficial flag bearer for the fans, Gina said she’s responsible for making 20 batches of cookies for the team bus ride home from every game.
“It’s what we’ve done for more than 30 years to support the team and the tradition at the school,” she said.
They expanded the tradition this year to include their grandson, Nino, who at 11 months old attended his second Brother Rice game. He would have celebrated a 28-21 victory over Detroit Martin Luther King High School had he not fallen asleep as the third quarter expired.
The Warriors’ win avenged a 32-19 defeat to the Crusaders to open the 2010 season and has fans excited to improve on last year’s 6-4 finish. The team next plays its “home” opener against Ann Arbor Pioneer on Sept. 3 at Berkley High School.
“This is a big game and there was no thinking about it,” said Colleen Marsh of her hour-or-so long drive from Rochester to Ypsilanti in order to see son Kyle play in a college stadium. She said she was not surprised to see the several hundred Brother Rice fans fill the lower section of Rynearson Stadium at midfield.
Stadium officials said exact game attendance was hard to pinpoint because tickets could be purchased at one time for all of the day's games.
“There’ a lot of tradition at Brother Rice and all the parents of current and former players are all very close,” she said. “Even alumni or parents that no longer have children at the school just come out and support the team wherever they play.”
Highlights of Saturday's game
The Warrior defense gave their fans plenty to cheer about early on, forcing a red-zone fumble and nabbing an interception on their opponent’s first two possessions. The offense stuck mostly on the ground during the first half, which ended tied at 14.
Brother Rice finally broke the tie with a touchdown halfway through the third quarter, but the lead was short-lived as the Crusaders returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.
The game looked fit for overtime until a stunning 78-yard touchdown pass play on a third and 21 put the Warriors ahead for good. The Warriors now have a 3-2 edge in the all-time series between the schools.
King’s top college prospect, Dennis Norfleet – who is ranked as high as sixth among the 2012 class, according to some prep sports evaluators – lived up to the hype with a 29-yard touchdown scamper and a half-dozen other impressive runs through the Warrior defense. He shared top game honors with Brother Rice’s DeShun Brown.