PINCKNEY — The Pinckney football team did all it could in Friday’s playoff game against Livonia Churchill.
The Pirates held Churchill’s offense in check in the second half, allowing the Chargers only a field goal.
But the Chargers ended the Pirates season thanks to Martell Dooley, who blocked what would have been a game-tying extra point in the third quarter and chip-shot field goal attempt that would have won it for the Pirates late in the fourth quarter.
Churchill won 24-23 and advanced to the second round, where it will play Livonia Franklin next weekend.
“We were able to run the ball on them, and so many good things happen when you’re able to do that,” said first-year coach Rod Beaton, whose team finished 8-2. “But, in playoff football, you can go and look at three, four, five thing that honestly will dictate the outcome. And a couple of things didn’t go our way.”
One of them came on the opening kickoff, when Alex Wasyl fumbled the ball on the Pirates 20 and Churchill took advantage, scoring three plays later on a 1-yard plunge by Michael Parrish to make it 7-0.
But the Pirates came right back, moving 80 yards in 15 plays to tie it when Jack Wurzer scored on a quarterback sneak to tie it.
“That’s the thing I loved about this team,” center Jake Pavlicek said. “We scored on our first drive in every single game. It’s powerful. We can bond together. It’s strength.”
The Pirates took the lead on a 35-yard scoring pass from Wurzer to Nick Cain, only to see Churchill wrest the lead back on a 52-yard run by Avery Grenier and a 16-yard jaunt by Darrell Mason Jr.
Zack DeRoek kicked a 27-yard field goal just before halftime to cut the margin to 21-17.
Each team scored on three of its four possessions in the first half. In the second half, each team scored only once.
“We settled in,” Beaton said. “We had much better pursuit on the angles and the cuts. We put our (jersey) number on them and it showed.”
Churchill’s Drew Alsobrooks, who rushed for 96 yards, kicked a 32-yard field goal, then kicked the ball into the end zone for a touchback that put the Pirates back on their 20.
Levi Collins, who finished with 174 yards rushing, then went to work, ripping off gains of 13, 9, and 10 yards.
“They were over-pursuing a lot, and the cutback lane was there all day,” he said.
So, too, was Nick Cain, and when the Chargers started spending time looking at Collins, Wurzer threw a bomb to Cain for a touchdown that cut the score to 24-23.
“Jack threw a great ball, and I almost dropped it,” Cain said. “I was bobbling it a little bit.”
Uncertainty or no, Cain outran the defenders to the end zone. Dooley blocked the extra point, and the teams played to a stalemate the rest of the way.
The Pirates had one more drive in them. After a Churchill punt late in the fourth quarter, they moved the ball 86 yards and had the ball first and goal on the Churchill 5.
But the Churchill defense, which had allowed mover 250 yards to that point, stiffened. Collins lost three yards on the first play from scrimmage. Wurzer then gained 5 yards and 1 yard, putting the ball on the Churchill 2.
DeRoek came out for a 19-yard field goal attempt, but Dooley blocked that kick, too.
Churchill punted on its last drive, and Cain came through again, returning the ball to the Pinckney 43. A personal foul against Churchill put the ball on the Chargers’ 42 with 11 seconds remaining. Cain took a handoff and gained 9 yards, but the clock ran out before the Pirates could get another play off.
Afterward, through tears at times, the Pirates were thankful.
“These are my boys,” Pavlicek said. “Eight and two is a hell of a run. We could have gone farther, obviously, but these guys mean so much to me. It’s more than football. These guys are my brothers, for life.
“We’re going to be 40,” he added, laughing as the emotions crested. “We’ll sit around and talk about these moments. We love each other. These are my boys. This team is everything, especially Coach Beaton, being a head coach for the first time. We were able to bring a home playoff for him. We had a special bond, for sure.
“I still can’t believe it,” he concluded. “It doesn’t feel real. I feel like we’re going to go back out on Monday, strap on the pads and whatnot. It’s hard to picture.”
Cain, for his part, was determined to look forward.
“The coaches always talk about leaving a legacy,” he said, “and my legacy is: Don’t wonder why your;e out in 95-degree practice in the summer, don’t wonder why you’re doing workouts at 7 a.m., because this is the reason why. This game is the reason why. It’s just a couple plays went their way instead of ours, and that’s the final.”
Players, especially the senior, milled about on the field long afterward, tears sometimes giving way to smiles, sometimes appearing with smiles as they hugged loved ones and each other.
“The beauty of this is our kids cared so much,” Beaton said. “I’m happy and proud. I’m very proud to be their head coach. I’m happy for what they were able to do and I’m happy and proud for what they were able to establish for us going forward with the program.”