SAGINAW — Heartbroken and speechless.
Left in tears at what might have been.
A Reed City football team that had designs on winning a state championship — and the talent to do it — saw those dreams dashed in a 36-28 loss to Saginaw Swan Valley in an MHSAA Division 5 regional championship game Saturday afternoon.
The loss ends the Coyotes’ phenomenal season at 11-1 overall while the Vikings (12-0) meet Hudsonville Unity Christian in a state semifinal contest Nov. 17 at Greenville.
The defeat came on a day where both teams went toe-to-toe with each other for 48 minutes and one side left the stadium feeling more than frustrated about things beyond their control.
The crux of the frustration came on the final series.
Reed City got the ball back with 1:06 remaining down by eight. Senior quarterback Jackson Price hit senior receiver Brandon Major with a 35-yard pass play to the Swan Valley 4 with about 35 seconds to go before the Coyotes spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Price lost five years on a failed run attempt and Reed City was called for illegal substitution on the next play, bringing up third-and-goal from the 9 with 12.5 seconds remaining. Price ran an option to play to inside the Vikings’ 2-yard line before being forced out of bounds as time expired.
The Reed City sideline was adamant there was still time remaining when Price went out of bounds but no time was put back on the clock by game officials.
The ending left veteran Reed City coach Monty Price shaken but beyond proud of his team.
“They’re warriors,” he said. “They fought like heck today and worked extremely hard today.
“They’re champions in my book. I’m speechless.”
The harder part to swallow is the loss brings to an end one of the best chapters in Reed City football history. This group of 18 seniors was responsible for putting the Coyotes on the state map after reaching the semifinals a year ago. Along the way, they racked up numerous individual awards, conference titles, district titles and the regional title last year.
“All of those kids are tremendous young men,” Price said. “I’m pleased with everything they’ve given this program. They have built our program and have taken it to a very high level.
“We’re gonna miss all of those seniors. The underclassmen will have to carry the load but that’s one of the finest groups of seniors I’ve ever coached and one of the finest teams I’ve ever coached.”
Swan Valley took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter when standout quarterback Alex Fries hit Terryon Lindell for a 56-yard touchdown pass.
Reed city responded when Jackson Price scored on a 33-yard run with 3.6 seconds left in the first quarter to go up 8-7.
Cody W. Kailing picked off a Fries pass to set up a 20-yard TD run by Zach Wirgau that made it 16-7 with 3:10 left in the half. The Coyotes went up 22-7 when Major picked off a pass to set up a 2-yard TD run by Phillip Jones-Price with 1:10 left in the half.
Reed City’s defense hounded Fries all day and forced him into one of his worst games as the Vikings’ signal caller. Fries was just 6 of 25 for 129 yards, one TD and two interceptions. He also ran for 63 yards. “They did some things that we hadn’t seen before,” Swan Valley coach Kevin Gavenda said. “But they have the personnel to do it. They have the talent and the athletes. It became a game of adjustments, back and forth.
“This shows that we can play through adversity and overcome challenges against a team that did a great job.” Swan Valley turned the momentum, though, with a big third quarter. The Vikings got within 22-15 on the first series of the third quarter and then tied it at 22-all with 1:59 remaining. Jones-Price responded for Reed City, though, by going 56 yards for a touchdown just 14 seconds later to make it 28-22.
Swan Valley went back up 29-28 on a 2-yard run by Drew Zolinski 5:21 left and then had its final touchdown set up after picking off a Jackson Price pass. That came with 4:37 to go.
Reed City went three-and-out on its next possession but the Coyotes’ defense stopped the Vikings with 1:06 remaining to set up the final drive.
“I thought we played great on both sides of the ball,” Monty Price said. “They’re one heckuva football team. Yards were tough on both sides.”
For Reed City, Price was 4 of 9 passing for 119 yards with one interception and added 10 carries for 130 yards and one touchdown. Jones-Price had 15 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns, while Wirgau had 11 carries for 45 yards and one touchdown and Major added three catches for 112 yards.
On defense, Mason Bush had eight tackles and Price had eight tackles and two pass breakups, while Cody S. Kailing added seven and Stephen Shewan five. Cody W. Kailing and Major each had an interception.