Detroit – Detroit King was anxiously awaiting its season opener all summer, wanting what is owned by its opponent, Warren De La Salle -- the title of Division 2 state champion.
King, The Detroit News' No. 1 ranked team, battled back from a 10-0 second-half deficit to defeat De La Salle 12-10 Saturday afternoon in the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State's Adams Field. The teams could meet again in the state playoffs in November.
De La Salle had its chances in the final minutes with LaVert Hill intercepting a pass to end one threat and Trentin Piwinski's 47-yard field goal with just seconds remaining coming up 5 yards short.
"This means a lot since they are the defending state champs, but still it's just one game and we have 13 more to go to the state championship," said Hill, a Penn State commit who had two interceptions, with teammate Donnie Corley also getting a pick, cutting in front of a De La Salle receiver to end a threat at the King 11 late in the third. "We're as good as we want to be. We could be great."
Four-star junior defensive back / receiver Ambry Thomas started King's comeback when he hauled in a 50-yard TD pass from sophomore El-Julian Jordan with 18 seconds left in the third quarter. Thomas broke a tackle just short of first-down yardage, then another down the left sideline before scoring.
"It was a quick slant and I caught it; he (defender) hit me and I bounced off of him and found the end zone," said Thomas of his TD grab. "I had to help build momentum for my team. We went into the locker room down with everybody blaming everybody, but we stuck with it and pulled it out."
Thomas had to make a big play, especially since King had wasted an opportunity earlier in the quarter following Hill's first interception of the game, returning it to De La Salle's 25, only to have the threat stall when Lawrence Bryant was stuffed for a yard loss on a third-and-goal at the 1, followed by Jordan Asbury hauling down Martell Pettaway for a 3-yard loss on the fourth down play.
De La Salle let King get back in the game. The Pilots had stopped King's drive when Colin Titcombe had a third-down sack, but a face-masking penalty kept the drive alive and Jordan found Thomas three plays later.
King took the lead when Martinez Adams Calloway, the Crusaders' running quarterback, broke loose for a 14-yard TD with 8:37 left.
"He's a great runner and he runs the read play excellent, so we got him in there in the second half," said King coach Dale Harvel of Calloway, a 6-2 junior. "(They) have an excellent defense and you're not just going to run the ball on them, so you have to get out on the perimeter, get the ball to the guys on the perimeter who can score."
De La Salle had its chances to pull the game out in the final minutes. Coach Paul Verska decided to gamble and go for it on fourth-and-2 play at its own 23, and quarterback Josh Wilk found Myles Charley for 5 yards to keep the drive alive.
However, the threat ended when Hill got in front of Charley near the left sideline and intercepted a pass at the 18. Hill's interception came one play after Corley intercepted a pass, but De La Salle got another chance due to a King penalty.
"I knew they were going to throw it to my side because they like to throw it to their sideline, so I was ready, focused and just caught the ball," said Hill.
Jordan's development at quarterback will be a work in progress and King's running game must get better – Pettaway rushed for 60 yards on 16 carries – but the Crusaders' defense proved to be tough with its front, led by 6-3, 240-pound Leon Page (CMU commit), putting on tremendous pressure.
Jordan (8-for-15, 130 yards, TD, INT) displayed a strong arm, but wasn't on the same page with Corley -- The Detroit News' No. 1 player in the state -- in the first half, overthrowing him, underthrowing him and passing to him when he wasn't ready to catch it.
King limited De La Salle to 225 total yards. De La Salle's defense was also impressive, holding the Crusaders to 216 total yards.
De La Salle defensive lineman Drew Beesley, a Bowling Green commit, also made his presence felt with a pair of sacks.
Junior Allen Stritzinger, who ran for 175 yards in the state title game win, rushed for 62 yards on 21 carries for De La Salle.