By Steve Gunn

CLARE – The Montague Wildcats were just a couple of defensive stops away from advancing to the Division 6 state championship game for the second straight year.

But it wasn’t to be, partly because Maple City Glen Lake refused to give up, and partly because of a very questionable call by the referees with the game on the line in overtime.

Montague overcame a shaky start and built what seemed to be a safe 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter in the state semifinals on Saturday at Clare High School’s athletic complex.

But Glen Lake came storming back with two late touchdown drives to send the game to overtime, including a dramatic touchdown catch with no time left on the clock.

Drew Collins finds a big gain in the first half for Montague. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Wildcats scored first in overtime, but a missed extra point attempt left them clinging to a six-point lead.

Glen Lake had a fourth down from the Montague 5-yard line on its possession, and quarterback Reece Hazelton threw a pass to the corner of the end zone that was caught by Justin Bonzalet, but appeared to be out of bounds, which would have given Montague the victory.

But after a long moment of indecision, the referees called it a touchdown, and Michigan high school football does not have replay challenges. On the next play Glen Lake’s Neil Ihme made the extra point, giving the Lakers the stunning come-from-behind 31-30 victory and a berth in next Friday’s state title game in Detroit.

The loss was extremely painful for Montague, particularly since a sideline replay clearly showed that Bonzalet’s overtime touchdown catch was out of bounds, according to Wildcats coach Pat Collins.

Collins said his team has a computer app that allows replays to be viewed within seconds. But he was classy about the call on the field, and refused to take anything away from Glen Lake, its coaches or its players.

“He was out of bounds, but it’s high school football and we don’t have replays,” Collins said outside the Montague locker room after the game. “We saw right away that he was out of bounds, and it hurt. It wasn’t even close.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Glen Lake. They did a great job coming back. And the officials are like us, amateurs. So I’m not going to take anything away from the officials. It’s just hard for them to see sometimes. It was a busy game, with a lot of emotion. Our guys make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and officials make mistakes. They don’t have replay to help them out, so it’s not their fault. It’s just how it goes.”

Brennan Schwarz reaches out for the goal line to give Montague a 14-10 lead. Photo/Jason Goorman

The loss ruined a special performance by Montague junior quarterback Drew Collins, the coach’s son, who rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 5 of 7 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s a great leader and he wanted it pretty bad,” Coach Collins said. “He was running hard, and I thought the offensive line did a tremendous job in front of him, as well as the receivers blocking.”

The game did not start out well for the Wildcats, who lost the ball on a fumble on the first possession of the game at their own 44-yard line. Glen Lake followed suit a few play later when Montague’s Remington Schneider picked off a pass at the Wildcat 28.

The fumble problems continued for the Wildcats when Drew Collins turned the ball over at the 50-yard line on Montague’s second possession. But Glen Lake again failed to take advantage, turning the ball over on downs after a failed fake punt attempt.

Montague punted on its third possession, and the Lakers finally cashed in, going on a seven-play, 80- yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 28-yard run by Hazelton. The extra point was good and Glen Lake led 7-0.

The Wildcats struck back quickly with a five-play, 68-yard drive to tie the game 7-7. The big play of the drive was a 33-yard pass from Drew Collins to Brennan Schwarz, putting the ball at the Glen Lake 20. Two plays later sophomore Dylan Everett scored from 10 yards out, 37 seconds into the second quarter, and the PAT made it 7-7.

Glen Lake kicked a 33-yard field goal midway through the second quarter and took a 10-7 lead.

Montague counterpunched again with an 11-play drive, covering 69 yards, that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass from Drew Collins to Schwarz with 2:25 left in the first half. Collins set up the score with runs of 20 and 11 yards, both on third down, that kept the drive alive.

Montague led 14-10 at halftime and appeared to take control in the second half.

Glen Lake got the ball first and drove to the Wildcat 35, but Schwarz picked off a fourth down pass and Montague took over on its own 29. Seven plays later Collins found his way through a maze of defenders and broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown, and the extra point made it 21-10.

Andrew Kooi added a 34-yard field goal for Montague with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats felt pretty comfortable with a 24-10 lead as the clock ran down.

But Hazelton, the Glen Lake quarterback who went down on a hard tackle early in the second half and had a limp the rest of the game, managed to guide his team back into the game.

Using an effective short passing game, the Lakers drove 91 yards on 17 plays and scored on a five-yard touchdown run by Jacob Pleva with 4:30 left in regulation, and the PAT made the score 24-17. The Lakers converted on three different fourth-down situations on that drive, including the final play that resulted in the TD.

Montague got the ball back, but had to punt with 3:04 remaining, giving Glen Lake one final chance, with the ball at its own 35 with 2:59 remaining and no time outs.

Hazelton calmly moved the ball downfield with eight completions and a few runs mixed in, and the Lakers had the ball at the Montague 5 with 24 ticks left and a running clock.

Montague’s Schneider sacked Hazelton with about 12 seconds left, but the Lakers managed to get off one more snap, and the play resulted in an amazing touchdown catch by Finn Hogan with no time left on the clock.

The extra point tied the game 24-24 and sent it to overtime.

“We started running the ball very successfully and tried to grind it out, but weren’t able to hold on,” Coach Collins said. “They did a good job of kind of dinking and dunking on our prevent defense. I thought we had a couple turnovers on downs, then they would get a first down or a touchdown.”

Montague got the ball at the Glen Lake 10 to start overtime, and Drew Collins ran it in on the second play from five yards out. But the extra point attempt sailed wide left, leaving the Wildcats up 30-24.

Glen Lake couldn’t get in the end zone on its first three tries of overtime, and faced fourth down from the Montague 5 with the game hanging in the balance. That’s when Hazelton threw the pass to Bonzalet that appeared to be out of bounds, which would have ended the contest in Montague favor.

But the referees finally called it a touchdown, and the extra point gave Glen Lake a victory that will undoubtedly go down in school history.

“We were celebrating like we had won, he was clearly out of bounds, but then they put their hands in the air,” Coach Collins said. “It was hard, thinking we won the game.”

Everett finished with 71 yards on 18 carries for Montague. Schwarz had five catches for 98 yards. Logan Metcalf had 8 ½ tackles for the Wildcats, while Christopher Kessler, Mark Vanderleest and Alec Waruszewski each had 6 ½.

Hazelton completed 26 of 39 passes for 221 yards for Glen Lake.