Everest football kicks off to a rousing start

Everest coach Mike Pruchnicki and Fr. Daniel Pajerski, LC, lead the team in prayer before the school’s inaugural football game Aug. 31.

Clarkston — Al Fracassa and Mike Pruchnicki have something in common: they’re both winningest coaches.

The 80-year-old Fracassa, the legendary coach at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, has won 417 games going into his 53rd year on the sidelines for the best all-time record in Michigan (and sixth best in the United States).

Pruchnicki, a tender 30 years old and starting his first year as a head coach, is the winningest coach in Everest Collegiate gridiron lore. He’s 1-0.

Hey, it’s a start — and what a deliriously joyful inauguration it was: a 31-0 whipping of Auburn Hills Oakland Christian on a summery Saturday evening before about 700 spectators witnessing the making of history.

Since Everest’s opening in 2008, it has co-opted with nearby Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, allowing Everest students to participate in sports.

“We felt this year was the best time to go on our own in football,” said Athletic Director Ann Lowney. With only 13 Everest players, including one starter, involved, “we thought it would have the least possible effect on their team” (The Lakers lost their opener, 50-31, to Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph).

The team presented an autographed football to Lowney after the game. “Without her (efforts), this wouldn’t have happened,” Pruchnicki said.

“It means the world to me that the boys, for the first time, were able to wear an EC jersey,” Lowney said.

“I’ll always remember this game,” said Pruchnicki, who was captain of football, basketball and baseball teams at Flint Powers High and a walk-on quarterback at Michigan State. “I only played one game, but I learned a lot,” he laughed.

After opening game jitters (two offside penalties in the game’s first five plays), the Mountaineers settled down for some smash-mouth football for a roster of only 19 players, including seven seniors who had never played high school-level football before.

Oakland Christian, with its core of nine returning lettermen, moved the ball from its own 24 midway early in the second quarter to EC’s 5-yard line.

The Mountaineers mounted a severe defense. Senior Jeremy Schupbach stopped one runner for no gain. Seniors Ryan Bradley and Aaron Murawa collaborated to down another runner for a 5-yard loss. Oakland Christian was penalized 5 yards. Two passes fell incomplete.

Everest had defended its goal-line.

The shift in momentum was palpable. EC converted six consecutive first downs on a perfectly executed 11-play, 95-yard touchdown march in 6 minutes and 41 seconds. Junior back Ben Bellestri (14 carries, 125 yards) battered his way four times for 21 yards; junior Lucas Neme (6 runs, 69 yards) covered 24 more yards in two carries.

Junior quarterback Sal Mastromatteo — the lone starter from the Lakers teams, where he was starting QB as a freshman and a sophomore — exhibited a veteran’s calm confidence. He hit team co-captain Noah Beauchamp, a senior, with a 25-yard pass.

From the 18, Mastromatteo took the snap, bootlegged to his left and found sophomore Andy Hayosh wide open in the corner of the end zone for Everest’s first touchdown. It was a play Mastromatteo had called.

Everest went on to build a 17-0 halftime lead on a safety and a 2-yard sneak by Mastromatteo. Neme returned the second-half kickoff 40 yards to Oakland’s 45-yard line. Junior Elliott Fenski cruised 38 yards to help set up a 2-yard touchdown by Bellestri. Sophomore Isaiah Hellner completed the rout with a 5-yard plunge with six minutes left in the game.

Everest more than doubled Oakland Christian’s offense, 309 to 125.

Joe Pruchnicki, the coach’s father and a man with 48 years of prep coaching, said of his son: “Fracassa put his stamp on Brother Rice. Mike has a chance to put his on Everest.”

He’s off to a rousing start. Just 416 more victories — and counting — to go!

(Next issue, there’s more to tell about Everest’s start-up of football: months of workouts, father-and-son bonding, community involvement.)

Don Horkey is a freelance writer residing in Shelby Township. He may be reached at horkeydon@yahoo.com.