Detroit — Jesse Scarber had the game of his life on the big stage of Ford Field Friday afternoon to help No. 8 Detroit King successfully defend its Division 2 state title with an 18-0 win over No. 2 Walled Lake Western.
Scarber’s teammates weren’t too bad either, sprinting into the end zone in celebration after the game to honor their late coach Dale Harvel who guided King to the state championship last year before suffering a fatal heart attack this summer while at the high school watching a 7-on-7 competition.
Scarber, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior, had two interceptions from his defensive back position, returning the second one for a 56-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to open up a 12-0 lead.
“My teammate, Maurice White (6-4 junior defensive end) tipped it and I got underneath it and then I saw open field and I knew I was quick enough to get there (end zone), just used my blockers to get into the end zone,” Scarber said. “It’s unbelievable, like a dream come true.”
And, a nightmare for Walled Lake Western (12-2) which had four turnovers — three interceptions thrown by Johnny Tracy and one by Cody White — and just 124 total yards after averaging 42.5 points during its first four postseason games.
Junior defensive back Jaeveyon Morton also had two interceptions for King, including his second for a 60-yard TD with 2:53 left. The turnover was caused by tremendous pressure up front on White, who rolled out and threw while being hit.
“We put a lot of stress on our defensive backs,” King coach Tyrone Spencer said. “We thought we could be good up front and we have been all season against the run. I told them (defensive backs) you have to play big this week, you have to and it looked like they took the challenge.”
So, did King do anything differently on defense than what Western expected?
“We didn’t see anything different defensively,” Western coach Mike Zdebski said. “They played a lot of man, a lot of man free, sit back in zone every now and then, but they’re pretty tough up front and tough to man up with.
“I think King played a great game defensively. We commend their defense and I think they had a passion for what they were playing for, you know, their former coach (Harvel). And, when they ran up and down the field after the game I think that was a great thing they did for their coach and we fully supported that.”
King four-star receiver/defensive back Ambry Thomas talked of honoring Harvel.
“It’s a 110 (yard sprint), like every summer we run 110s, like twenty of them to start our practice so we start tired and see how the younger kids and everybody practice when they are tired,” Thomas said. “It was a Coach Harvel thing so we had to do it for him.”
And, of shutting out Western, Thomas said: “It feels real good to go out at 18-0 and we made a statement. The majority of people had us losing this game because of their quick receivers and Cody being the big-time player that he is. We just had to step up on the defensive side of the ball.”
King became the first team since Dearborn Divine Child in 1985 to post a shutout in the Division 2/Class BB/Class B state title game. King also was the first team in a state title game to have two Pick 6s since King scored on two interceptions against Midland in 2007.
King, which suffered its lone losses to No. 1 Detroit Cass Tech, held a 6-0 halftime lead and it could have been larger, or should have been scoreless.
Well, King wasted a pair of scoring chances, first fumbling on the Western 2 in the opening quarter before having a Dequan Finn fourth-and-goal pass ruled incomplete in the end zone when it looked like Thomas came up with the ball, but was ruled out of bounds late in the final minutes of the half.
Still, King would get one more chance … coming after a questionable call. White, an MSU commit, lofted a perfectly thrown pass between Scarber and Morton that Kam Ford came up with near midfield, taking three strides with the ball, but the pass was still ruled incomplete.
Then, while being forced to punt from its own end zone, Western had a bad punt to give King a short field to work with at the Western 26.
And, Finn would make Western pay. First, running back Kevin Willis bulled his way for a first down on third-and-three from the 19, and Finn found Thomas near the left sideline at the 3 and Thomas grabbed the pass and hauled White into the end zone for a 9-yard TD pass and 6-0 lead with 12 seconds left in the half.
“It felt real good because I knew I had to make a statement for the team,” Thomas said. “It was zero-to-zero and somebody had to punch first and that’s our motto, we want to punch first.”
Zdebski felt Ford caught the ball.
“That was a catch,” Zdebski said. “He had three steps down, but that was a bang-bang call for an official. That was a huge part of the first half, a huge part of the entire game because instead of us going in (locker room at halftime) zero-to-zero, or we’re at midfield going in to score, they have the ball in great field position and bang one in right at the end of the half.”
Western’s defense toughened up in the red zone in the first half to turn away two of King’s threats.
First, Scarber intercepted a Tracy pass at the King 38 and returned it to the Western 8 before King’s fumble at the 2 ended the Crusaders first threat.
Then, King senior running back Jaylen Wilson went to work on the next drive, breaking loose for runs of 20 and 36 yards to once again get into the red zone at the 12 before Finn’s fourth-down pass on a scramble was ruled incomplete to Thomas in the end zone.
Western had a scoring chance in the first quarter, but came up empty when Ford — defended by Thomas — couldn’t come up with a catch in the end zone on a third and seven play from the 23. Western then missed a 35-yard field goal.
Western had more opportunities in the third quarter, both coming after Scarber’s pick-six.
First, White busted loose for a 21-yard gain to the King 27, but a holding penalty pushed the Warriors back to the 44 and then White failed to connect with a wide open Ford who got behind Scarber, and Tracy failed to hook up with Justin Thomas who was defended closely by Thomas in the end zone on the next play, forcing a punt.
Western got the ball with a short field to work with again after forcing a three-and-out, but again couldn’t move the ball despite starting the drive from the King 38.
Early in the fourth, Western moved inside King’s 30, but Tracy’s pass to White in the end zone was picked off by Morton with 10:44 remaining.
"It was just a struggle offensively to get guys open and we were just a little off all the time, but the kids worked their tails off and did a great job."