Muskegon had tied the score with 2:31 left to play in the Division 2 state championship game and kicked the ball deep to Delano Madison, who caught it at the 4-yard line, ran 5 yards and threw the ball across the field to teammate Jason Alessi.
Jason Alessi? Isn't he the Birmingham Brother Rice junior lacrosse player who has committed to Michigan? And doesn't he also play basketball?
But football? When the 2011 football season began, Alessi was preparing for the basketball season.
"Going into high school, I thought one year of football and that would be it because I play basketball and lacrosse, too," he said. "Three sports would be kind of tough, especially with academics and stuff."
A 3.75 grade-point average student, Alessi was happy with his decision, but the football Warriors were struggling.
Rice dropped consecutive games -- to Orchard Lake St. Mary's and Novi Detroit Catholic Central -- because no one could kick a field goal and extra points were an adventure, keeping legendary Rice coach Al Fracassa from notching career victory No. 400.
But then the football captains cornered Alessi, who is a pretty good kicker. As far as I can tell no punches were thrown nor were any threats made.
"We need you," the captains told him. "You would make our team better."
The Warriors were close to not making the state playoffs and everyone at school knew it.
"It was almost like I was going to let my whole school down because football at Rice is huge," Alessi said. "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."
Alessi joined the team last season in Week 8 and helped Rice win the 2011 championship, but this season his role was quite a bit larger.
That is why he was standing there waiting for Madison's pass to arrive, secretly having a nervous breakdown.
"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 said. "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."
Alessi wound up with a 91-yard touchdown, but that was far from his lone contribution to Rice's 35-28 victory. In addition to his five conversion kicks, Alessi added 12 tackles, 10 of which were solos. Late in the game he made consecutive touchdown-saving tackles.
Not bad for a lacrosse player and not bad for Fracassa, who won his eighth playoff state championship, which just so happened to be his first repeat title.
"It's kind of hard to express, really," Fracassa said. "I've never accomplished this -- ever. Winning two state championships in a row. I think Dakota did it a little while ago. Who else did it? I'm kind of proud of that -- I fit in that category now. I'm elated, to tell you the truth. I probably won't be able to sleep tonight."
The truth is the coach with the most victories in state history might not sleep until he decides whether this was his final season or not.
He said he will try to decide before Christmas and he will agonize over it until then.
"I have to go home and talk to my wife about this," he said. "I love the game. It's done so much for me. It gave me a scholarship to Michigan State. I played football, baseball and basketball in high school. Sports mean a lot to me and I like to give it back.
"That birthday came by pretty fast a couple of weeks ago. I can't believe I'm 80. I look in the mirror and I say: 'Are you really 80?' But I am and I still love the game and I had so much fun coaching these guys."
And they had so much fun playing for him, especially Alessi, who knew once the captains asked him there was no way he could say no.
"That never even crossed my mind," he said. "Even my parents were like, 'Say yes.' It turned out to be the right choice."
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
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