MARSHALL, Mich. - The final five minutes of the Division 6 state semifinal between Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and Constantine will be played over in the minds of both Falcons teams for years to come.
But the Falcons of SMCC will probably prefer not to reflect on what will be remembered as the worst five minutes of their otherwise memorable season.
SMCC owned a 13-point edge over Constantine and appeared on schedule to take a short trip to the Pontiac Silverdome on Friday to play in the championship game. However, when Constantine wideout Scan Wolf out-jumped SMCC defensive back Neal Howey in the end zone to haul in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Baker to tie the score with no time left, SMCC's dreams of winning a state title suddenly appeared blurry.
Constantine kicker Jordan Williams calmly booted his fourth extra-point of the day to give his team a 28-27 come-from-behind victory that left the SMCC contingent numb and nearly at a loss for words.
"I can't believe it," SMCC coach Jack Giarmo said. "They shouldn't have scored on the last play. We've got to make a play at that point in the game and we just didn't. If we had gotten a first down with our last possession the game would have been over."
SMCC (11-2) had more than enough opportunities to win. Giarmo's team never trailed during regulation. Then Wolf and Howey came down in the end zone sharing Baker's desperation pass. With both players gripping parts of the football the officials called it a touchdown.
"He was a good cornerback," Wolf said of Howey. "We both had the ball and then I came down with it. He was fighting me crazy for it but I had to have it."
Baker, a 6-1 senior, said the final play wasn't the only last-second touchdown pass of his career.
"In the eighth grade we had a last-second touchdown pass to win a game," he said. "But this one is much bigger because it puts us in the state championship game playing in the dome."
Wolf's touchdown catch wasn't his only signifant play on the six-play drive that covered 67 yards over the final 26 seconds.
Facing a fourth-and-one at SMCC's 47 with seven seconds left, Baker found Wolf on a sideline hook pattern for 14 yards. Wolf, who was in the grasp of an SMCC defender, tossed the football out of bounds to stop the clock after he couldn't reach the Constantine sideline. When the official signaled to stop the clock the scoreboard showed one second left.
"That was the game right there," Baker said of Wolf's catch and pitch out of bounds. "How would you even think of throwing it out of bounds?"
Giarmo did not have a clear view of the play, and offered no excuse.
"You've got to play for four quarters," Giarmo said. "You have to finish the game and that didn't happen for us. I'm proud of our team but we just didn't finish it. Losing with one second left is unbelievable. I'm shocked. I'm sick."
SMCC quarterback Kris Fanslaw, who threw three touchdown passes, credited Constantine (12-1) for never giving up.
"We thought we had it," Fanslaw said. "They just wanted it more than us at the end.
"They tossed one up there and their guy got it and our guy didn't."
Fanslaw hit Mike Jondro for TDs of 67 and 16 yards, and for 39 yards to Thomas Lieto, who also scored on a 74-yard run that appeard to put the game away with 5:43 remaining.
But Eric Wickenheiser's missed extra-point try left the door open for Constantine.
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6302.42.27492 -84.96425