Detroit — Rodney Hall took advantage of his opportunity to play in the Division 1 state championship game Saturday afternoon at Ford Field, leading top-ranked Detroit Cass Tech to a dominating 49-20 victory over No. 3 and previously unbeaten Detroit Catholic Central.
Hall, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior, missed last year’s state title game — a 41-27 loss to Romeo — with an ankle injury suffered in a semifinal win over Canton.
Hall, a Northern Illinois commit, threw for 220 yards and matched a state finals record with five touchdown passes. And it was little-known junior slot receiver Teone Allen who was his main weapon early, hauling in a short pass and turning it into a 33-yard TD to open the scoring, then scoring on a 20-yard pass to pull Cass Tech even early in the second quarter.
Catholic Central had all the momentum when it scored a pair of touchdowns during the final 12 seconds of the opening quarter, first with Isaac Darkangelo’s 1-yard TD run, coming on the play after he converted a fourth-and-3, followed by Morris’ INT return.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, the nation's premier receiver, stood out in the second half, hauling in touchdown catches of 49 and 13 yards, giving him 17 TD receptions for the season.
"Rodney is a great quarterback and he makes my job easy," said Peoples-Jones, who had six receptions for 118 yards. "All I have to do is get open and he puts the ball there every time. Last year I was crying around this time and now I'm so happy."
Hall rallied Cass Tech from a first-quarter deficit, bouncing back from a huge mistake when Catholic Central defensive end Jack Morris filled the passing lane to intercept a screen pass intended for Donovan Johnson and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown and 14-7 cushion.
Catholic Central had all the momentum after it scored a pair of touchdowns during the final 12 seconds of the opening quarter, first with Isaac Darkangelo’s 1-yard TD run, coming on the play after he converted a fourth-and-three play, followed by Morris’ INT return.
But Hall shook off the turnover and went back to work.
He led a 59-yard drive, first rushing for 27 yards to the CC 25 on a third-and-16 play, then finding the 5-7, 170-pound Allen over the middle for a 20-yard TD to pull Cass Tech even at 14 with 9:17 left in the half. It was just the third touchdown catch of the season for Allen.
"I was very confident," Hall said. "I know I made a mistake, but it was important to not dwell on it, have a short memory about it and just come out and score on the next drive.
"It was very fun to play in this game. It was great to go out and throw five touchdowns. The offense was clicking and guys were open.
“I wanted it bad. We made history at Cass because we were the first team (in school history) to go 14-and-0 and win the state championship. I just wanted to win this game because we’ve been losing ever since we came to high school. We have a lot of wins, but we’re coming up short for the last three years and it’s great to come out with the championship this year.”
On the next series, Hall directed an 82-yard, three-play drive which lasted less than a minute, first connecting with Peoples-Jones on a 20-yard pass, followed by Johnson sprinting to the end zone on a 60-yard run to open up a 21-14 cushion.
“It was a little hole so I hit the hole and I knew the outside was going to be open so I hit the outside and kept running,” said Johnson.
Wilcher was impressed with Johnson, saying: “The most important thing is he understands he has speed and tries to use it to his advantage. He outruns angles, he’s been outrunning angles the last three weeks.”
Tom Mach, who is in his 41st year as Catholic Central head coach, gambled with the onside kick to start the second half … and it backfired.
Cass Tech recovered at the C.C. 42 and Hall found Donovan Parker on a quick slant on the first play, resulting in a 42-yard touchdowns and 28-14 cushion.
C.C. could never recover.
In fact, Cass Tech scored three TDs in less than six minutes to start the second half, taking advantage of a short field when Hall hit Peoples-Jones for a 49-yard TD pass and 35-14 lead on a third-and-11 play, then took a commanding 42-14 lead on Johnson’s 2-yard run after Dyontae Johnson recovered a fumble at the C.C. 18.
The running clock came into play when Hall found Peoples-Jones for his fifth TD pass of the game, a 13-yarder to the left corner of the end zone on a third-and-goal play with 10:08 remaining.
"He's very dangerous after he makes a move and takes off running and he's an accurate passer so he causes you a lot of trouble," Mach said.
Catholic Central, like Cass Tech a year ago, was without its starting quarterback, Austin Brown, who injured his leg in the first half of a semifinal win over Romeo last weekend.
Mach opted to go with senior Dillon Dejong instead of sophomore Marco Genrich, whom he used in the second half against Romeo.
“He had a great year for us up to that point,” Mach said of Brown before his injury. “He (Dejong) did a tremendous job, gutsy job when you think he only played quarterback for three days in practice, then played in front of 30,000 people. We felt he was a senior and had experience and Marco was a sophomore so we put the senior in front of him.”
So, what was Mach’s thoughts at halftime, trailing just 21-14?
“Well, we talked about how to come back and get things going in our direction and then keep the ball moving forward,” Mach said. “We wanted to stop them on their first possession, then decided to go for the onside kick which we thought would give us a great boost at that point. I thought our kids needed something at that point, and that would have been great, but it didn’t go and they capitalized on it.”
Cass Tech held a 383-193 advantage in total yards, 220-18 through the air.