Belleville — No. 4 Belleville earned its first regional championship Friday night with a 13-10 comeback win over No. 14 West Bloomfield in cold, wet conditions.
First, Belleville (12-0) made a big, fourth-down stop when West Bloomfield junior Cornell Wheeler, a Michigan commit, was stopped short of the Belleville 19 on fourth and inches with 8 minutes left.
“I know it was a nice jam so we were crossing face and tried to get some penetration, but I think it might have been (Boston College-bound linebacker Marvin) Ham, Ham or (Akron-bound defensive tackle Jalen) Bell because Bell made a lot of plays tonight," Belleville coach Jermain Crowell said.
“We knew we wanted to put it in our seniors’ hands. I told them we’re not about to sit back. We’re going to cover these guys because I don’t think people normally get in their face and cover them. I thought that our defensive line versus their offensive line was a good matchup. We have a pretty good defensive line with (sophomore Damon) Payne and all of those seniors.”
Then, Belleville pounded the ball on the ground, scoring on the 81-yard drive with senior Khalid Crawford busting loose for runs of 16 and 33 yards to set up Jalen Hunt’s 3-yard TD with 3:49 left.
“I was letting (Michigan State-bound tackle) Devontae Dobbs get in front of me and then ran behind him," Crawford said. "I’ve been starting on varsity since I was a freshman and this is our (seniors') last home game that we’re ever going to play on this field so I wanted to leave this field with some good, hard runs."
Still, West Bloomfield (9-3) — which lost to Clarkston in the Division 1 championship game last year at Ford Field — had one more chance to pull out the win or force overtime, but C.J. Harris’ third-down pass from midfield fell incomplete and he was sacked by Hunt, an Iowa commit, on fourth down after scooping up a bad snap with less than 2 minutes remaining.
West Bloomfield had yet another chance after Belleville failed to pick up a first down, then opted to run the ball on fourth down from its own 47 instead of punt.
“I decided to run it because of the fact that we fumbled that other snap and our long snapper is Dobbs and he was on the field so he never gets a chance to warm up and snap the ball,” Crowell said. “I didn’t want to risk it going over someone’s head and them getting even better field position so I thought it would be smarter to just run it and play defense because at the end of the day they were going to have to toss it deep since they didn’t have any timeouts left.”
Harris & Co. had the ball at the Belleville 40 with 18 seconds left, but after two incompletions, he was sacked once again to end the game.
Belleville piled up more than 240 yards rushing with senior Deon Selma picking up 142 yards on 29 carries Sophomore quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid, who entered the game with 37 TD passes, 11 in the previous three games, hit on just 3-of-16 passes for 53 yards with five passes dropped.
Dhue-Reid also had two TD passes called back due to penalties in the first half.
Belleville dominated the first half, holding a 141-67 advantage in total yards and 33-16 edge in plays, but trailed 3-0 at halftime.
Why? Well, Belleville had two TDs called back for penalties and another chance for a score erased by a fumble in the red zone.
Belleville went on a 15-play drive on the opening drive, eating up more than 6 minutes, but Dhue-Reid threw an incomplete pass in the end zone on second down, then on third and goal from the 6, fumbled the snap and defensive tackle Beau Davis recovered at the 16 to end the threat.
On Belleville’s second drive, Dhue-Reid found Michigan State-bound receiver Julian Barnett down the right sideline for a 38-yard pass to West Bloomfield’s 45.
Then, on fourth and 3 from the 43, Dhue-Reid found Jalen Williams over the middle for a TD pass which was called back for an illegal shift, forcing a punt.
Dhue-Reid went back to work on Belleville’s third drive from its own 35, finding Barnett over the middle on a crossing route near midfield with Barnett taking it to the end zone, only to have that play called back for an illegal man downfield.
West Bloomfield — which had two three-and-outs — finally reached Belleville territory on C.J. Harris’ 10-yard pass to Michigan State-bound receiver Tre Mosley, then Harris ran for 31 yards on a quarterback keeper to the 14.
But Belleville’s defense stopped Harris on a third and 3 from the 6, making West Bloomfield settle for a 25-yard field goal by Jake Ward with 3:02 left in the half.
West Bloomfield increased the lead to 10-0, scoring on a 60-yard drive to open the third quarter with Harris running for 12 and 14 yards, then finding Mosley down the left sideline for a 28-yard TD.
Harris completed 10-of-21 for 76 yards, connecting on just 5-of-13 for 26 yards after his TD toss to Mosley.
West Bloomfield had a chance to add to that cushion after forcing a three-and-out, then watching the ball bounce through the punter’s legs, giving West Bloomfield the ball at the Belleville 23.
But West Bloomfield failed to take advantage, losing yardage and then having Harris’ screen pass fall incomplete on fourth and 16.
Belleville pulled within 10-6 with 5:14 left in the third when Deon Selma picked up 28 yards on a fourth and 10 from the West Bloomfield 32 to set up Jalen Hunt’s TD run.
Less than a minute later, Dhue-Reid and Belleville had a short field to work with after freshman cornerback Deshaun Lee recovered a fumble at the West Bloomfield 16.
But, this time around, Selma was stopped on a fourth and 3 at the 9 to end the threat, just a play after Dhue-Reid’s third-down toss was dropped in the end zone.
West Bloomfield’s defense again came up big late in the third when Selma was met at the line of scrimmage by Penn State-bound linebacker Lance Dixon at the West Bloomfield 37 on fourth down.
West Bloomfield played without standout sophomore running back Donovan Edwards who suffered a season-ending injury a little more than month ago.