Harper Woods — Wet conditions from whistle to whistle couldn’t slow down a potent River Rouge offense Friday night.
It opened a 6-point halftime lead with three straight scores and went on to take sole possession of first place in the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue division with a 35-7 road victory over Harper Woods.
River Rouge (5-1, 3-0) easily handled a Harper Woods offense that was missing starting quarterback Corey Graham because of a transfer eligibility issue and wound up committing four turnovers.
“Corey Graham can throw the ball vertically, he can throw the ball underneath,” River Rouge head coach Corey Parker said, adding that the he stressed “trying to keep the ball inside and in front of us" while facing an inexperienced quarterback.
Instead, River Rouge quarterback Emanuel Ferguson was the star of the show. He carried the ball for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Deandre Bulley added 80 yards and a receiving touchdown and Caleef Jenkins had two touchdown runs.
Ferguson, an Air Force commit, said his team’s initial game plan was to air it out, but the elements forced him to make a difference with his legs.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t know it was going to start raining,” Ferguson said. “But we adjusted, we were ready for the adjust, and came out ready to pound the ball.”
The sloppy conditions did manage to stifle both teams at first. River Rouge broke the scoreless tie, capitalizing on an interception from third-string quarterback Curtis Jackson by Kamal Hadden with 3:55 left in the first quarter.
River Rouge drove 66 yards on the ensuing drive with 12 consecutive running plays capped by a 2-yard quarterback draw from Ferguson to take a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
Three plays into Harper Woods’ next drive, Jackson underthrew his receiver and was picked off again; the interception was returned into Harper Woods territory at the 39-yard-line.
River Rouge defensive end and Clemson commit Ruke Orhorhoro said his defense tried to create problems with heavy pressure.
“We were just trying to send them all at him,” Orhorhoro said. “We realized (Graham) wasn’t starting, so we tried to put a bunch of pressure on him and have an easy game for our defensive backs to catch picks, intercept balls, all that.”
Ferguson wasted no time extending River Rouge’s lead, opening the drive with a 30-yard completion to R’Montaye Caldwell to make it first-and-goal. Ferguson reached the end zone on a third-down run to make it 13-0 after a missed extra point.
“(Ferguson) just bursts out of there as soon as he gets through the hole,” Parker said. “But his offensive line did a good job of making sure he didn’t take any shots, and if he did, it was 5 or 6 yards down the field.”
Late in the first half, Harper Woods caught its first break, recovering a botched punt at the River Rouge 34-yard-line with 2:18 remaining in the second quarter.
Harper Woods subbed Jackson out and called on wide receiver/cornerback Elija Griffin to shore up its quarterback play — and he did not disappoint.
Harper Woods reached the 10-yard-line with five straight running plays, giving its offense two shots at the end zone with Griffin in the shotgun and 13 seconds remaining. Griffin’s first attempt sailed out of the end zone, but his second dropped into the arms of senior Chris Robinson with all zeroes on the scoreboard to make it 13-7.
The momentum didn’t last long.
River Rouge returned to its ground game to start the third quarter, opening the half with seven run plays — including a 40-yard scamper from Ferguson — on an 80-yard touchdown drive that took just 2:57 and was finished off by a 10-yard carry to the outside by Jenkins. A successful two-point conversion made it 21-7.
“I told the kids, ‘Did you expect them to not try to score?’” Parker said. “They’re going to score, they’re going to put their best effort and put their best guys in good situations.”
Harper Woods responded to the two-score deficit by going three-and-out. But once again, special teams gave Harper Woods a fighting chance: Kodi Cooper recovered a muffed punt at the River Rouge 36-yard-line.
A pass interference penalty put them inside the red one, but Jackson threw a pick in the end zone on fourth down.
A 32-yard run from Ferguson followed by a 48-yard touchdown pass from Mekhi Hunt to a wide-open Jenkins opened River Rouge’s lead to 28-7 to put Harper Woods away for keeps.
Running back Jordan Anderson had 82 yards on the ground for Harper Woods (4-2, 1-1).
Auburn Hills Avondale 53, Berkley 0: Derrick Hinton had a 54-yard touchdown run, Zeke Ringstaff had a 64-yard touchdown run and a 34-yard fumble return for a score, Jamason Jodway had a 10-yard touchdown run, and David Holloman had a 5-yard touchdown run for Avondale (4-2, 2-2 OAA Blue). Berkley is 2-4, 1-3.
Birmingham Brother Rice 31, Grand Ledge 28: Running back James Donaldson was a yard short of Brother Rice’s single-game rushing record with 290 yards and three touchdowns. Patrick Balow had five receptions for 62 yards and a TD, Colin Gardner made five catches for 57 yards and Daron Gilbert made the clinching interception with 37 seconds remaining for Brother Rice (4-2, 0-2 Catholic League Central). Grand Ledge is 1-4.
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 49, Warren Mott 21: Quarterback Tommy Schuster threw four TDs and moved to first place all-time on Chippewa Valley’s career touchdown passes list with 53 for his career, Myren Harris rushed for 111 yards and three TDs and Marcel Lewis made six tackles with two for a loss for Chippewa (6-0, 3-0 MAC Red). Warren Mott is 4-2, 2-1 MAC White.
Clinton Township Clintondale 34, New Haven 0: Eddie Higgenbotham had an 11-yard touchdown run and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Manuel, Cory Hines had three tackles and returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown, and Josh Warlick had nine tackles for Clintondale (2-4, 0-3 MAC Silver). New Haven is 0-6, 0-2 MAC Bronze.
Dearborn Heights Robichaud 26, Redford Union 14: David Williams went 14-for-24 passing for 341 yards and four touchdowns, Cameron Underwood had a touchdown reception, Kyle Smith had three catches for 104 yards and two scores, and Taiwon Williams had a 70-yard touchdown catch for Robichaud (6-0, 5-0 Western Wayne). Union is 1-5, 1-4.
Detroit Central 36, Detroit Pershing 6: Orlando Clarkston had two rushing touchdowns and 124 yards, Justin Tuggle had a 55-yard rushing score, Terrence Ealy had 194 yards throwing with both a passing and rushing touchdown, and Kadeem Tex blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown for Central (3-3, 2-2 PSL Black). Pershing is 1-5, 0-4).
Detroit Loyola 20, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 17: D’Vaun Bentley had 13 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown for Loyola (5-1, 3-1 Catholic AA). Jack Sairman went 7-for-15 passing for 80 yards and one touchdown and had a rushing score and eight tackles for Cranbrook-Kingswood (4-2, 2-2).
Detroit Mumford 34, Detroit CMA 0: Tahj Stewart went 7-for-12 passing with three touchdowns and one rushing score, Kyle Henderson had 11 carries for 106 yards, Treyvon Downer had four catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns, and Dayohn Bostic had nine tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack for Mumford (5-1, 3-0 PSL Green). CMA is 0-6, 0-3.
Detroit Public Safety 14, Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest 6: Delvonte Webb returned a punt 95 yards for a TD and made 11 tackles and two interceptions, including a go-head INT return for a TD, and Gromarko Rivers had five sacks, two forced fumbles and three tackles for Public Safety (5-1). Lutheran Northwest is 1-5.
Detroit Renaissance 21, Detroit Denby 20: RaeQuan Beal completed 12 of 18 passes for 213 yards and two TDs, Robert Army returned a 76-yard kickoff for a TD, and caught a 52-yard TD pass and Darnell Adams Jr. had a 73-yard TD reception for Renaissance (4-2). T’Shon Wilikes had 19 carries for 251 yards and two TDs for Denby (5-1).
Detroit Southeastern 32, Detroit East English Village 6: Peter Geter made eight tackles (three for loss) and had one sack, Azia Isaac had seven tackles with two for a loss and Monte Borden-Jones threw two TD passes for Southeastern (4-2). East English Village is 0-6.
Farmington Hills Harrison 27, Rochester 24: Rod Heard had 37 carries for 286 yards and three touchdowns, and Maverick Hansen had 12 tackles for Harrison (5-1, 4-1 OAA White). Rochester is 2-4, 2-2.
Grosse Pointe South 27, New Baltimore Anchor Bay 13: Conor McKenna carried 24 times for 174 yards and three TDs and James Doerer made 14 tackles, three for a loss for South (6-0, 3-0 MAC White). Anchor Bay is 2-4, 0-3 MAC Red.
Hamtramck 21, Detroit University Prep 6: Noah Stokes had 21 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns, Dorean Grimes had four tackles and an interception, and Antwan Tramble went 4-for-8 passing for 90 yards and one rushing touchdown for Hamtramck (2-4, 2-2 Michigan Metro Black). University Prep is 1-5, 0-4.
Macomb Dakota 33, Utica Ford 0: Running back De’Javion Stepney had 16 carries for 196 yards and two TDs, Austin Morrison rushed for 169 yards on 18 rushing attempts, Quarterback Mark Tocco threw two TD passes and ran for another and Brandon Michalak made a TD catch for Dakota (5-1, 2-1 MAC Red). Nathan George made eight tackles and a sack, and Graham Mason had seven tackles, two for a loss for Utica Ford (2-4).
Macomb Lutheran North 42, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 22: Jake Mlynarek had eight carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns, and Angelo Basilisco had seven carries for 58 yards and two scores for North (5-1, 2-1 Catholic Intersectional 1). Liggett is 2-4, 0-2.
Plymouth 46, Hartland 26: Mike Mathias had 10 carries for 170 yards and a TD for Plymouth (4-2, 3-2 KLAA West). Zach Lynfield made six catches for 98 yards and a TD for Hartland (2-4, 2-3 KLAA West).
Riverview 49, Monroe Jefferson 20: Ethan Lockhart had four carries for 68 yards and three touchdowns, Jimari Moultrie had seven carries for 82 yards and an interception and two fumble recoveries, Dominic Wood went 1-for-2 passing with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Steven Rice for Riverview (5-1, 4-1 Huron). Jefferson is 0-6, 0-5.
Sterling Heights Parkway Christian 53, Dearborn Heights Star Academy 0: Robert Thompson went 3-for-5 passing for 117 yards and three touchdowns, Maurice Hutchinson had three carries for 87 yards and two scores and an 80-yard touchdown catch, Isabelle Hunter kicked a 21-yard field goal, and Julian Davis had a rushing touchdown and a 79-yard punt return touchdown for Parkway (6-0, 4-0 MIAC). Star is 1-5, 1-3.
White Lake Lakeland 28, Walled Lake Western 7: Lakeland busted a big run on its first play from scrimmage to go up, 6-0, and never looked back. Western (4-2, 4-1) had a difficult time moving the ball all night, but when quarterback Sam Johnson scored with about two minutes left in the first half to draw Western within a touchdown it looked like it was on the right track, but two second half turnovers doomed it. Johnson, committed to play football at Boston College, was Western’s best player, going 11-for-17 passing for 197 yards and one rushing touchdown. Lakeland improved to 4-2, 4-2.
Detroit Community 30, Detroit University Prep Science & Math 8: Rayvon Williamson threw touchdown passes of 45 and 37 yards to Kejuan Sanders and a 67-yarder to Daron Davis. Williamson also had pick-sixes of 30 and 47 yards for Community (6-0, 3-0 MMAC). UPSM is 1-5, 1-2.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer; Detroit News staff contributed