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Detroit entrants ride hometown Lions to $1M Circa contest victory

As fans of the Detroit Lions, the four members of the CHIEF-3 entry in the Circa Sports Million IV handicapping contest had been let down by the franchise throughout their lives.

There was the 0-16 season, Barry Sanders’ early retirement, a naked assistant coach ordering from a Wendy’s drive-thru, the wasted Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson years and so many more disappointments.

That’s what made the group’s victory over a record 4,691 entries even sweeter.

The Lions came through for the friends from the Detroit area, who clinched the $1 million first prize when their hometown team defeated the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

“We wanted to be in that scenario. We asked for it,” said Brian Koestering of Livonia, Michigan. “We felt confident that we wanted it to come down to that and be in that situation.”

Circa Sports Million is a $1,000 buy-in contest that featured a $6 million guaranteed prize pool. Entrants picked five games against the spread during the 18-week NFL season.

The CHIEF-3 group was organized by Koestering, 38, an account executive at a sports talk radio station in Detroit. Anthony Coratti, 40, and Zachary Zoltowski, 27, are Koestering’s brothers-in-law, while John Miller, 31, is a longtime friend of the group.

Each member of the quartet was responsible for one pick per week, and the group discussed its final play before coming to a consensus. CHIEF-3 finished 59-26-5 (69.4 percent) and stormed home with a 19-4-2 record to claim another $105,000 in quarterly prize money.

Zoltowski, a resident of Livonia who works at General Motors, closed by picking eight straight winners.

“Each guy kind of had their own handicapping strategy, so it really worked out well as the season went on and we kind of gauged the ebbs and flows that the NFL presents,” Coratti said. “We were able to all stay in our lanes, keep our head down and find winners.”

The foursome was about to write off their chances until after Week 13 when Zoltowski informed them at dinner that they were tied for 49th place. Two weeks later, CHIEF-3 was sixth in the standings and entered the final weekend with a share of third place.

All four members flew to Las Vegas last weekend and watched the games at Circa, agonizing over every loss and celebrating each positive outcome.

CHIEF-3 went 2-1 in the Sunday morning games, winning on the Dolphins (+1) and Bengals (-7½) while losing on the Browns (+2½). When the Rams (+6) covered in an overtime loss to the Seahawks, the group entered the Sunday night game in a tie for the lead.

With the entry Enut34-1 on the Packers (-4½) and CHIEF-3 choosing the underdog Lions, that game would decide the winner of the contest.

“What better scenario going into watching your hometown team than first place on the line?” said Miller, a software salesman from Canton, Michigan. “We probably took Detroit more than anyone else in the pool. It was on our radar all week. I think it secured it when it became the Sunday night game. Talk about it all working.”

The Lions scored with 5:55 remaining to take a 20-16 lead and called a gutsy hook-and-lateral play while trying to run out the clock. When D.J. Chark caught a fourth-down pass to clinch the victory, the members of CHIEF-3 celebrated wildly with Circa owner Derek Stevens, a fellow Detroit area native.

The Sean 1923-2 entry also had the Lions and finished second for $500,000. Enut34-1 was third and took home $400,000.

Coratti, who is from Northville, Michigan, said he was laid off from his job in software sales last month, and the winnings give him extra financial stability as he searches for employment. Zoltowski’s wedding was two months ago, and he said he can now afford a proper honeymoon.

“It was the perfect storm,” Zoltowski said. “There was no way (the Lions) game was going to be left off the picks, and thankfully it ended up working out.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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