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November 23, 2013

Rice stays perfect with D-2 semifinals win

Warriors to face Muskegon in rematch of 2012 title game

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Brain Walker (28) rushed for four touchdowns in the first half as Rice rolled past King in a D-2 semifinal. The Warriors have a chance to win their third consecutive state title Friday against Muskegon High.

DETROIT — Motivated to defend another title, and dedicated to giving the most successful coach in state history one more week on the job, the Birmingham Brother Rice football team kept its season rolling Saturday afternoon.

Now, the final stop for the Warriors and the final week in the career for Al Fracassa, will culminate at Ford Field for the Division 2 state championship.

“We’ve talked all year about it, about winning one more for coach,” quarterback Alex Malzone said after he helped the Warriors to a 43-20 victory against Detroit Martin Luther King in a D-2 semifinal from Wayne State University. “This is huge. To be going back to Ford Field and to have a chance to do everything we want to, it’s pretty cool.”

The 23-point differential to the game does little to explain how thoroughly Rice dominated.

The Warriors scored the game’s first 26 points, getting rushing touchdowns of 7, 36, 2 and 27 yards from Brian Walker, all in the first half.

“We wanted to get things going right away,” said Walker, who finished with 97 yards rushing on 16 carries. “We didn’t feel like anyone could stop us, and what we were doing was working.”

King (10-2) made things interesting for a few moments after forcing a Rice fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half.

The Crusaders got on the board thanks to an 11-yard run from Raymond Mitchell, and trailed 26-8 just 38 seconds into the second half.

The momentum was short-lived.

Rice's Jason Alessi made an acrobatic interception some five minutes later, and the Warriors then marched 74 yards, capping the drive with a 12-yard pass from Malzone to Corey Lacanaria for a 33-8 lead.

King scored its second touchdown with 1.7 seconds remaining in the third, but Rice answered again when Malzone connected with Lacanaria on a 55-yard scoring strike early in the fourth, and then Alessi nailed a 27-yard field goal to make it 43-14.

King capped the scoring with a touchdown on the final play of the game.

“It feels great,” Fracassa said from inside the Wayne State athletic complex, retreating from the blistering cold and unforgiving wind that remained all afternoon. “We’re excited and happy to get to keep play again. And we’ll be in a warmer place next week.”

Rice (13-0) will face Muskegon High (12-1) for the second consecutive season in a state final.

The game is set for 1 p.m. Nov. 29 at Ford Field.

The Warriors won last year’s back-and-forth classic 35-28.

For Fracassa, who is set to retire at season’s end, the King victory finally gave him an exact timeline as to when his tenure will conclude.

“I get to finish my career with three straight seasons of 14 games,” he said with a smile. “That’s pretty special.”

Rice has been dominant this postseason, averaging 40 points per game and allowing just 41 total points.

“We have to play our game,” Malzone said of the state final. He finished Saturday with 186 yards on 11 for 26 passing. “We can’t have any letups.”

Walker, who said he’s never played in a game as cold as Saturday’s, kept his take of Friday’s title game simple.

“We have to finish it off.”

Rice has a shot at clinching a state title in an undefeated season for the first time since the 1983 team went 12-0.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.