Detroit — Lowell tossed the first punch and then the second and third at top-ranked Detroit King in the Division 2 state championship game Friday afternoon at Ford Field.
But, in the end it was King (14-0) who came away with a thrilling 40-38 win with a final knockout punch coming on Armani Posey’s 39-yard TD pass to Donnie Corley on the final play of the game. The Crusaders went 97 yards in 37 seconds to win the game and the state Division 2 title.
Posey finished 19-of-27 for 383 yards and five TDs without an interception. Posey found Dontre Boyd with a 25-yard pass to the Lowell 39 to set up the score.
Boyd was injured on the play after taking a vicious hit and had to be helped off the field, getting a glimpse of Corley’s heroic grab to make the Crusaders the first team to win on the final play since Detroit Country Day defeated Muskegon Catholic Central (18-14) in the Class C title game in 1986.
“I scanned the field, it was one-on-one coverage with the best receiver in the state, so I threw it up and gave my guy a chance to get the ball and he went up and made the play,” said Posey, who took over the quarterback job in Week No. 4 due to a suspension to the starter and never gave it back. “I felt (37 seconds), still time in the ball game, just put the ball in our playmakers' hands and they made plays.”
Yes, playmakers like LaVert Hill, who started the miracle drive with a 22-yard grab, followed by a 10-yarder to Corley, then the 25-yarder by Boyd who was knocked down at the 39 with 10 seconds left.
After an incompletion, Posey threw a perfect pass in the left corner of the end zone where Corley went up and pulled the ball away from the outstretched arm of defender Gabe Steed.
“It was a beautiful ball, couldn’t have been thrown better,” said Corley, who had six receptions for 108 yards, including a 25-yard TD grab in the third quarter after Lowell had taken its largest lead at 31-13. “I knew where I was on the field. I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing that we fought back from 17-0 and won.”
King coach Dale Harvel was muttering to himself on the sideline when watching the winning play develop.
“It ended up with isolation with Donnie on Lowell’s sideline and when I didn’t see the safety move over to Donnie, I just repeated over and over, ‘Throw it to Donnie. Throw it to Donnie.’ I know no one could hear me, but that was comforting for me to say that.”
Harvel was talking to himself for the majority of the game due to King’s inability to stop Lowell’s offense.
Lowell senior quarterback Ryan Stevens completed 6 of 9 passes for 186 yards and ran for 66 yards and two TDs. Senior running back Max Dean rushed for 99 yards (22 carries) and three TDs.
Lowell (12-2) scored on all four first-half possessions to take a 24-13 halftime lead with Stevens completing 5 of 6 passes for 181 yards.
The Red Arrows dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to set the tempo, forcing three straight three-and-outs while taking a 17-0 lead.
“They took our running game away and made us one dimensional, which we didn’t want to come in here and be in that position but we were," Harvel said. "So, we had to start throwing the ball in order to get back into the football game.
“I give all the credit in the world to Lowell. They did a great job on us today, but my kids kept fighting and refused to get put away. We had a couple of stops when we needed them. We played four full quarters and won the game.”
Junior linebacker Cepeda Phillips had 14 tackles for King and Posey got in on 10 tackles from his linebacker spot.
On the game’s opening series, Lowell defenders sacked Posey, forcing a punt to get the ball at the King 45. Dean ran for 6 yards on the first play from scrimmage, having his line help to move the pile for several yards after first contact.
Lowell took a 3-0 lead on George Gonzales’ 21-yard field goal on the opening drive.
After forcing King to another three-and-out, Stevens went up top during the next three drives. The Lowell quarterback found Steed for 36 yards to set up Dean’s 1-yard run for a 10-0 lead.
Stevens then connected on a 62-yard pass to a wide open tight end David Kruse on the next drive, which set up his 4-yard run for a 17-0 cushion. He finally found a wide open Sawyer Olesko over the middle for 66 yards to set up Dean’s 3-yard TD run for a 24-7 lead late in the half.
King has only given up one passing TD all season and you could tell why. When the Crusaders got beat, their speed on the back end chased down receivers to prevent scores.
Lowell continued to make big plays to start the second half, scoring on a 63-yard drive to take a 31-13 lead on Dean’s third TD, a 4-yard run. The score was set up by Nathan Stephens’ 38-yard run on a fake punt to the 5.
Posey, who missed wide open receivers early, settled down and made big plays, finding his speedy receivers — Ambry Thomas (four receptions, 72 yards, TD), Hill (4-77, 2 TDs) and Boyd (5-126) — in space.
Posey connected with Boyd on a short pass on a third-and 20-play from the 25 and Boyd used his speed to zig-zag through the defense for 73 yards to the 2 to set up Posey’s 3-yard run.
Later in the second, Posey found Hill for a 41-yard toss on a third and 10 play to Lowell’s, 12, then hit Hill in the end zone on the next play to cut the deficit to 24-13 at halftime.
Posey wasn’t done, finding Thomas for a short pass near the 34 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Thomas, near the left sideline, reversed his direction and beat the Lowell defenders down the right sideline for a 42-yard TD to pull within 31-26.
Lowell answered King’s TD with a score of its own with Stevens scoring on a 2-yard run for a 38-26 advantage. The key play was on fourth-and-1 from the King 22. Several players on Lowell’s line shifted to the right, drawing King offsides.
Still, Posey and King wasn’t about to go away, driving 56 yards in 2 minutes, 17 seconds to get within 38-34 with 4:42 left with Posey again finding his receivers in space, then running for 17 yards to the 2 to set up a 2-yard TD throw to Hill. Posey then connected with Martell Pettaway for the 2-point conversion.
King kicked the ball away and Lowell picked up a first down, again using the strategy to shift its line to the right side on a third-and-2 from the King 48 with 2:14 left … again drawing the Crusaders offsides to move the chains.
In the end, the Crusaders did finally stop Lowell and forced a punt to give them a chance to drive 97 yards in a hurry.
“I thought our kids battled and I felt like anytime when you're competing against 15 kids who have already been offered scholarships to other colleges and you have 1.5 you're kind of nervous coming into the game, but I thought our kids competed well, intelligently on offense," Lowell Coach Noel Dean said.
"I thought defensively we played very, very well. I think at times athleticism took over and it was hard on these kids, but they still battled right until when we punted the ball down to the 5 with 45 seconds to go on the clock. I thought that that would be a pretty good spot to be in. Credit them. They made the plays at the end."