Trojans Rally in the Last Minute to Defeat Grand Ledge
Above: East Lansing senior quarterback Joe Benbraham threw three touchdown passes Friday night to lead the Trojans to a 31-28 victory over Grand Ledge.
Jack Morse was quietly confident a day before East Lansing’s third game of the season, an “East-West” showdown against longtime rival Grand Ledge.
The senior wide receiver/placekicker was even more confident even though his team trailed by five points with less than two minutes to play – after having led by 16 at halftime.
“On the sideline when we went down, there were no negative words,” Morse said. “Everybody was like, ‘Let’s go, let’s finish this game. The game of football means so much to us, this game meant so much to us. We did not want to lose to Grand Ledge.”
Nearly three hours after Friday night’s 7 p.m. kickoff, Morse had the numbers to support his confidence: a 39-yard field goal, seven receptions for 77 yards, and one mighty big touchdown with less than a minute to play.
“It went back and forth, and it was a heckuva ballgame,” said Grand Ledge coach Matt Bird. “Give them (East Lansing) credit, they made the play at the end to win.”
Morse’s 17-yard catch and run of a crossing pattern pass from senior quarterback Joe Benbraham lifted the undefeated Trojans (3-0) over the goal line and into first place in the CAAC Blue with a 31-28 victory on a penalty flag-filled Jeff Smith Field at Lynn C. Stadium.
“The touchdown pass was a crossing route that we had thrown earlier in the game, and it looked good,” East Lansing coach Bill Feraco said. “The coaches upstairs wanted us to come back to it but we were never in the situation with ball position to do it.”
But when the situation presented itself, Benbraham delivered a strike to Morse, who powered his way into the end zone with 44 seconds remaining to quickly erase Grand Ledge’s short-lived, but hard-earned, 28-23 lead. Benbraham added two points of insurance – and the final margin of victory – by connecting with sophomore receiver Andrel Anthony for the two-point conversion.
“The huddle was calm. We do a two-minute drill every day at practice, so we’re used to this type of situation,” said Benbraham, who completed 17 of 27 pass attempts for 200 yards and three touchdowns, one of which went to Anthony for 25 yards in the second quarter.
Feraco, a former Michigan State quarterback during his collegiate playing days, knows a game-winning drive requires execution and leadership.
“The most important thing is he has the confidence of his teammates,” Feraco said of Benbraham, who completed five passes for 61 yards in just under a minute. “He made some big plays. When you have the ball in your hands every play, you’re supposed to do some of that.”
Grand Ledge (0-2), which trailed 23-7 at halftime after three straight Trojan touchdowns in the second quarter, took the lead with 1:50 to play when junior quarterback Logan Hylek connected with senior wideout Aaron West for a 71-yard touchdown on a fourth down-and-six pass play from the Comets’ 29. Earlier in the game West had caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Hylek.
“We actually called that play twice in a row,” said Bird. “We felt we could hit that spot (on the field) against them. I didn’t expect them to be quite that aggressive (blitzing on fourth down). That was an effort play all the way.”
Midway through the third quarter, East Lansing senior defensive back Kaleb Elam was ejected for throwing a punch after Grand Ledge had scored to trim the deficit to 23-14.
“At times, we were our own worst enemy,” Feraco said, “and we need to address being too emotional or too sullen. They’re kids but you can’t get into this emotional funk. We have to be much more poised than that.”
Senior linebacker Noah Iosefa and junior linebacker Jamar Mills led the Trojan defense with eight tackles apiece while senior defensive back Dano Ley helped seal the victory with an interception on Grand Ledge’s last possession of the game. Senior defensive linemen Woody Edwards and Jalil Lewis kept the pressure on Hylek throughout the game.
“It’s special that they had the fight within them,” Bird said. “We’re young, beat up and little. You could see that. We don’t win pregame, and have to fight tooth-and-nail with everything we’ve got.”
In the afterglow of the victory, Morse was ecstatic but realistic.
“Really special right now, but we need to focus on the next game and go four-and-oh,” he said.
The Trojans will have that opportunity and more when they travel to Portage Northern for a 7 p.m. game this Friday.