Farmington Hills — Max Martin and his Farmington Hills Harrison teammates were happy to be on the football field Thursday at the Herrington Athletic Complex, preparing for a Division 4 regional against Chelsea that will be played at the same site Saturday.
It was Martin who hauled in Rod Heard’s desperation toss in overtime for a TD, which turned out to be the difference in a 13-10 victory at Detroit Country Day in a district title game and keeping Harrison’s season alive.
The dramatic play occurred after a bad snap for a would-be field goal to force a second overtime. Heard alertly turned it into a winning pass play.
The Heard-to-Martin combination gave Harrison one more chance to play on its home field. The school will close its doors for the final time following the completion of the 2018-19 school year. State semifinal games will be played at neutral sites for all eight divisions.
Martin, a junior, started the season at safety, then became a two-way player while also starting at quarterback before a knee injury sent him to the sidelines for a Week 7 loss to Rochester Adams.
When Martin returned, Keel Watson — a transfer from Detroit Delta Prep, which closed its doors in September — was running the offense, leaving Martin to play at tight end.
Martin was blocking for the field goal try against Country Day, expecting to hear the “thump” of a kick, but that never happened.
“When I didn’t hear him kick it, it was like, ‘Did it get blocked?’” Martin said. “I turned around and noticed the play was still going on, so I branched out a little bit and lifted my hand and Rod made it happen, got the pass to me, and I was super happy — overwhelmed — and just excited to be in the right place at the right time.
“When I turned around, I noticed Rod was running backward, almost around the 20 yard line, and I caught it at about the 5 and got into the end zone. It was a great play by him and great awareness by both of us.”
It was a Hollywood-like ending as Harrison’s final season continued.
“We definitely have more in the tank,” Martin said. “It’s great to have a second opportunity to play for a regional championship on our home field. I’m happy we’re able to end this legacy back at home and bring the fans another home game before we go away. I’m super excited.”
Said Herrington, the state’s all-time winningest coach with 443 wins in 49 years: “The fact that we got by last week was sort of a miracle.”
Martin was taking some snaps under center during practice Thursday, also catching some passes at his tight end spot from Watson. He also practiced in the secondary, knowing he will be tested by Chelsea’s passing attack, along with Heard (Northwestern), Xavier Goldsmith (Colorado State) and Ben Williams.
“I’m hoping to get some interceptions at safety,” Martin said, knowing Chelsea has a great combination in Quinn Starkey and Hunter Neff, who caught five passes for 145 yards, including a 67-yard TD, in Chelsea’s 35-14 district title win over Milan. “We’re focused and ready for their passing game.”
Goldsmith, a transfer from Detroit Cass Tech, agrees.
“We’ve watched a lot of film, know they like to pass and we feel like we’re up to the challenge, have a lot of athletes back there,” Goldsmith said.
“I’m so happy that we’re still playing. My emotions were everywhere (in the district final). I thought it was over and then Rod throws it up and saves our season, so it was exciting.
“Really, it’s a great experience to come out and play with a new team and compete for a state championship. The work is real hard with winning traditions. I get a lot of constructive criticism here, I’m coachable, ready to learn and then take that to the field.”
While Harrison has 13 state championships, Chelsea reached the Division 3 title game in 2015, losing to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Harrison advanced to the Division 3 title game last year, losing to Muskegon. Harrison then fell to Division 4 ahead of this season after an enrollment drop.
Still, Herrington said the 2018 postseason games have been just as tough, defeating Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook 24-10 in the predistrict, then the OT win over Country Day, which lost to Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Division 4 state title game in 2016.
“Division 3 — there’s a couple, maybe three great teams are still in there,” said Herrington, pointing to Muskegon and Detroit King. “Still, it’s funny because in Division 3 last year our first two games were easier than our first two games this year, so you never know. We just have to be ready to play at a high level Saturday.”