Football: Gabriel Richard returns to action, drops season opener

In a year in which everything has felt wrong, something finally felt right – the return of high school football.

Three weeks after the scheduled start to the season, Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard finally opened its season at home, dropping a 27-19 decision to Flint Beecher.

Though it will not be a typical season, Richard head coach Matt Giarmo said the team was excited to return to action.

“It’s exciting to be back; the kids were really excited,” Giarmo said. “We knew we had an opportunity to play tonight which a lot of kids around the country, and even in our own state, didn’t have.”

Giarmo said the offseason has been challenging, but wasn’t offering up excuses for the Irish’s defeat.

“It’s been up and down,” he said following the game. “We were getting ready in the summer and then they canceled and brought us back, so it’s kind of a quick turnaround, but that’s no excuse for how you play.”

Richard seemed to be in great shape at halftime, with its winged-t offense dominating the possession battle en route to a 5-point lead over visiting Flint Beecher.

After Beecher scored on its opening drive of the season, the Irish responded with a 15-play, 77 yard touchdown drive that saw it convert a fourth down and took more than half a quarter off the clock. Jack Smith scored from one yard out following a 30-yard rush from quarterback Mitch Foley.

Richard led 8-6 over the Buccaneers with 6:34 remaining in the first half after Foley connected with receiver George White for a two-point conversion.

The Irish got the ball back after forcing a three-and-out and drove the ball deep into Beecher territory with a 16-yard run from fullback Colin Danek. The drive stalled, but Richard added a 35-yard field goal from kicker Antonio Benedetto to increase its lead in the final minute of the first half.

The narrative changed for the mistake-prone Irish in the second half, as Beecher scored 21 unanswered points and recovered an onside kick in the final stages of the game to hold off an Irish rally.

Following a 14-play, 80 yard scoring drive from Beecherto open the second half, the Irish started deep in Buccaneer territory after a long return from Griffen Kaiser plus a Beecher penalty. But a holding penalty and a dropped snap forced the Irish to punt, denying its chance to reclaim the lead.

Beecher, leading 13-11, immediately capitalized on the mistake when quarterback Jacoby Sanders broke outside and sprinted past the Irish defense for an 81-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the third quarter, increasing its lead to 19-11.

“We made big mistakes defensively, letting them outside,” Giarmo said. “The little things add up big time and costed us the game.”

The Irish weren’t able to move the ball early in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over on downs. The Buccaneers effectively put the nail in the coffin when the Irish forced a fumble, but a Beecher player scoped up the ball and ran untouched to the end zone for a 32-yard score, increasing its lead to 27-11 with under 3 minutes remaining.

Richard didn’t quit. Smith cracked off a long 60-yard return to give the Irish prime field position, and three plays later, receiver Paul Hehmann caught a tipped pass in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Smith scored the two-point conversion to cut Beecher’s lead to one score, 27-19 with just over two minutes remaining.

Giarmo said Smith, a two-way player for the Irish, brings heart and soul to the team.

“He brings pure heart,” he said. “The kid works his butt off, and when he gets a chance, he does what he can to help the team. He’s a big piece.”

Following the score, Richard attempted an onside kick, but was unsuccessful and Beecher ran out the clock.

Richard (0-1) returns to action next Friday when it hosts Burton Bendle at 5 p.m. Per COVID-19 restrictions, the game will be closed to the general public.

PHOTO: File from 2019