Moment: 'The Catch' Saves Rockets' Day

October 22, 2020

By John Johnson
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

In every playbook there’s a gadget, a trick play that’s only meant to be used to save the day, to be used at the perfect moment. When they work the way they’re drawn up.

But in this case, it didn’t work the way it was drawn up, and it still won the game.

In the 1992 MHSAA Class A Football Playoff Final at the Pontiac Silverdome, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer was in that moment and coach Pete Kutches called the play in the final minute.

With 32 seconds left, Geoff Zietlow pitched to Demarkeo Hill, who handed the ball to Luke Bates on the reverse. Bates pitched back to Zietlow, who lofted a pass downfield. Tipped at the 10-yard line by a defender, the ball landed in the hands of an alert Stacey Starr, who dashed into the end zone with the game-winning touchdown and Reeths-Puffer’s first MHSAA football championship by a 21-18 score over Walled Lake Western.

Just like they drew it up. Right. 

Starr had missed practice that week when “the play” was practiced, and with no one to block, he headed downfield. And as fate would have it, he headed straight into Finals lore.

“I saw two guys going up for the ball. It was Scott (Goudie) and a guy from Walled Lake Western, and they knocked it up the air. I was like ‘I can get to it.’ I got to it, and honestly have no recollection of anything else but being in the end zone,” Starr told the MHSAA Second Half when the 1992 team had a reunion at the MHSAA Football Finals in 2017.  

“It’s a special part of our life,” Starr said. “Not that we would ever want to get away from it, but it’s something that will never escape us. Even when it’s time for us to pass on, at our funerals, someone will probably talk about this.”

It wasn’t a particularly pretty game. The Rockets had to overcome losing four fumbles, and Walled Lake Western struggled offensively and turned the ball over twice. The scoring started with a safety for the Warriors when the snap on an intended Reeths-Puffer punt flew out of the end zone. Still, it was a one-point game at halftime, 15-14, in favor of Western. 

Early in the final period, the Warriors got a 32-yard field goal from Travis Ilacqua to pad their lead to four. After Western turned the ball over on downs with 1:40 left near midfield, Zietlow hit on a couple of passes to get the Rockets to the 37-yard line and set the stage for what has become known in Michigan high school football history as “The Catch.”

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PHOTO by Gary Shook.