The football that spiraled out of Plymouth quarterback Shaun Austin's right hand just after 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon carried a lot more than a row of laces and two white stripes.
Hopping a ride on the pigskin were the Wildcats' amazing destiny and a one-way ticket to Ford Field.
When the ball reached its final destination -- the huge and soft hands of Brennen Beyer -- in the corner of Lansing Everett High School's north end zone, it capped one of the most stirring drives ever produced in an MHSAA playoff game.
Beyer's leaping 25-yard touchdown reception with just 4.5 seconds left finished off an 83-yard, 69-second drive that gave Plymouth a 20-17 victory and a spot in next Saturday's 1 p.m. Division final against Lake Orion at Ford Field.
On the play, Beyer appeared to be tightly covered by a pair of Ram defensive backs. But the way the 6-foot-4, 230-pound two-way stud can get up, they could have put half the town of Rockford on him and it wouldn't have made any difference.
"I ran a streak and our coach said to high-point the ball," said Beyer, describing his incredible reception. "That's what I did. It was surreal. I didn't even know what was happening. I was so dead tired, but it felt incredible.
"This feels so great. I just want to close my eyes and try to remember this moment for the rest of my life."
According to Austin, who couldn't have thrown the ball any better, the game-winning play isn't in the Wildcats' playbook.
"I couldn't even tell you the name of it," Austin said, smiling. "We just kind of scrapped it up on the sidelines. I was looking for some other things right away, but when I didn't see anything, I saw that big guy over there, so I decided to throw it up to him."
Austin's performance during the final drive was John Elway-esque. He was 7 for 9 for 66 yards.
On the play prior to the TD, Beyer hauled in a 17-yard aerial across the middle that put the ball on the Rockford 25 with 11.4 ticks left.
"Before that last drive, our offensive coordinator told us, 'Now's the time to make a name for yourselves. Now's the time,'" Austin recalled. "Every person in that huddle believed we were going to score."
The Wildcats have now knocked off three consecutive teams -- Canton, Novi Detroit Catholic Central and Rockford -- that have been ranked No. 1 at some point this season.
"Wow!" said Mike Sawchuk, when asked about his team's latest remarkable accomplishment. "We've told them the same thing since the first day: 'Don't quit. Don't quit. Don't quit' -- on the field, in the classroom or in the weight room. And they didn't quit today."
Plymouth's Beyer-led defense was more than up to the challenge presented by Rockford's "Wings & Things" offense the entire afternoon.
"We had to tough it out for this game," said defensive lineman Brandon Landers. "Rockford has some really big guys. But we told ourselves, 'If you get knocked down, you have to get right back up.'
"This team hadn't ever won a playoff game before this year. Now we're going to Ford Field...I get goose bumps thinking about it I'm so happy."
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Beyer focuses in on the game-winning catch. (photo by
The Wildcats swarmed Rockford's running backs throughout the afternoon. (Ed Wright photo)
Jake Morris and a Plymouth coach celebrate seconds after the final whistle blew. (PlymouthPictures.com photo)
Beyer's hard hit on Rockford quarterback Mark LaPrairie produced this
first-quarter fumble that was recovered by the Rams. (Ed Wright photo)
Jake Morris lifts a Plymouth coach in the air seconds after the final horn sounded. (Ed Wright photo)
Jake Morris follows a Nate Emminger block. (Ed Wright photo)
Phil Emminger separates a Rockford receiver from the ball on this fourth-quarter hit. (Ed Wright photo)
Plymouth's Adam Packer leads the defensive charge on this first-quarter tackle. (Ed Wright photo)
Plymouth's student cheering section goes crazy after Brennen Beyer's game-winning touchdown reception with 4.5 seconds left. (Ed Wright photo)
Faris Abraham brings down a Ram running back. (Ed Wright photo)