Goricki: Ambry Thomas, King deliver fitting tribute to late coach

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Detroit King’s Jaeveyon Morton (22) and Jesse Scarber celebrate Morton's interception in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game.

Detroit — Ambry Thomas left Ford Field on Friday evening a champion, leading Detroit King’s defense to an 18-0 shutout of Walled Lake Western to repeat as Division 2 state champion.

Thomas talked about King’s impressive defensive effort, forcing four turnovers and limiting Western to 124 total yards, and how the team dedicated the season and the championship to its late coach Dale Harvel, who guided King to the state title last year, then suffered a fatal heart attack this summer while watching a 7-on-7 competition at the school.

Thomas couldn’t stop smiling, and for good reason. He talked about how the majority of the media picked Western to win the game because of its quick receivers in Kam Ford, Justin Thomas and Jack Dodge, and its big-play man in Michigan State-bound Cody White.

Now, Thomas must find a college to call home. He plans to enroll early, meaning he must make up his mind in the next few weeks. Thomas hopped on a plane to Penn State for an official visit just hours after the title game, then watched the Nittany Lions’ 45-12 rout of the Spartans on Saturday in Happy Valley.

Thomas talked of the difference between last year’s championship and this one.

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“Like my coaches were saying, we won the state title last year because we had the athletes, but this year it was a team effort,” Thomas said. “It just feels good. I don’t know what to say.

“We knew if we just kept working hard we’d get the job done because no one could mentally do what we did, and it made us stronger as a team and brought us closer together.”

King’s players ran a 110-yard sprint after the game in honor of Harvel.

“It was like an emotional feeling for Coach Harv,” Thomas said. “I had this planned out for the month. We were running a 110 and then everybody started tagging along with it and that’s what we had to do, pay our respects to Coach Harv.

“He was talked about a lot every game. We said we have to do it for Coach Harv. You see our coaches’ shirt, it says Harvel’s name on it, so we had to do it for him.”

Thomas learned his lessons from veterans in past years, like Donnie Corley (MSU) and Lavert Hill (UM) last year. He carried those lessons to this year’s younger players.

“With a younger team, you can’t really yell at them that much, you have to show them the right thing to do,” he said. “They’re going to play a lot because they’re young, but won’t know the seriousness probably until they are seniors. You just have to show them the right thing to do and then tell them to chill out with the plan.”

So, what did Thomas tell his teammates after the PSL loss to top-ranked Detroit Cass Tech in the regular-season finale?

“I told them to forget about it, it happens,” Thomas said. “I looked at who we were going to play and it was tough teams on there, so I knew it would be a dogfight, but we came out on top on all of them.”

Thomas left Ford Field impressed with the secondary.

“My secondary was amazing today,” Thomas said. “When we played East English, we gave up 300 yards passing so we knew we had to get better. We called in two former Michigan players that went to King, Deon Johnson and Clay Thompson, Tyriq’s Dad, and they helped us. They were our secondary coaches.”

The move paid off with King getting four interceptions, two apiece by Jesse Scarber and Jaeveyon Morton, with each of them returning a pick for a long TD. Scarber scored on a 56-yard TD to open up a 12-0 lead early in the second half and Morton’s 60-yarder led to an 18-0 cushion in the final minutes.

King head coach Tyrone Spencer was impressed with Thomas’ leadership, and his team’s ability to believe it could get the job done.

“I remember during the summer, we were running 110s and those young guys weren’t used to it and he was picking them up, like ‘Let’s go, you’ve got to catch me,’ because he was always coming in first and that type of attitude is what makes him special,” Spencer said of Thomas. “Jesse (Scarber) took the challenge this week because I told him, ‘Jesse you have to play good this week for us to win,’ and he had a good game and I’m proud of him. Man, what you can do when those kids just believe.”

So, what did Spencer do to celebrate the championship? He attended the wedding of King offensive coordinator Terel Patrick on Saturday night in Novi. The two have been King’s staff together the last seven years.

“It was fun,” Spencer said. “We all had a great time.”

Sounds like the perfect weekend.

St. Mary's running back Josh Ross (5) is tackled by Detroit Catholic Central defender Isaac Darkangelo (38).

Ross a three-time champ

Josh Ross walked off Ford Field late Saturday night holding the Division 3 state championship trophy while wearing a huge smile on his face.

After all, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s had just pulled out a thrilling, 29-28 comeback victory on Caden Prieskorn’s 18-yard TD pass to Ky’ren Cunningham with four seconds left after Muskegon had just scored on a 3-yard TD run by La’Darius Jefferson with 1:55 remaining.

It was a program-record third straight state title for St. Mary’s, including a 7-0 slugfest victory over Muskegon in 2014.

This one had to be the sweetest for Ross and his teammates since they entered postseason play with a 5-4 record, including a pair of losses to Detroit Catholic Central, one at Ford Field in the Prep Bowl, 17-14.

And to think, St. Mary’s had a 5-4 record in 2013 and failed to make the state playoffs.

“I tell you this, our team, we had a lot of losses early, had a great schedule, but we came together as brothers and this is one of the greatest feeling, a three-peat and our school had never done it before,” Michigan-bound Ross said. “We faced a lot of adversity, came back from 14-0 in the first quarter of the regional and our offense and defense held strong and we won that game (35-28 over DeWitt), and I feel this team (Muskegon) is top-three in the state as far as skill.”

Ross had high praise for Prieskorn and junior running back Rashawn Allen, who set the single-season school record for rushing yards.

“He transferred here, this was his first year at St. Mary’s, and he was making a lot of mistakes early (in season), came a long way and played great today,” Ross said of Prieskorn, who transferred from Lake Orion. “Another guy that’s great, actually broke our record for rushing yards in a season is Rashawn Allen who is going to be great player next year. I loved watching him play this year.”

Allen ran for 136 yards on 25 carries in the title game, 34 coming on the 80-yard winning drive to finish with 2,131 yards. And that’s coming against a schedule that included Macomb Dakota, Detroit Loyola, Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn, U-D Jesuit, Warren De La Salle, Birmingham Brother Rice and Catholic Central twice.

St. Mary’s veteran coach George Porritt shouted out to his team in the postgame huddle: “This is one of the great moments in St. Mary’s football history and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Later, Porritt talked to reporters, saying: “You know what’s great about this, we were 5-4 at one point and it was hard, a hard season for us. We had to battle. We played a lot of great teams. We had a lot of ups and downs and this last five games has been a great ride. This one was special.”

Hall shines on big stage

Rodney Hall was in tears last year during Thanksgiving weekend, only able to sit and watch Detroit Cass Tech come up short against Romeo, 41-27, in the Division 1 title game because of a broken ankle suffered in a semifinal.

Hall was healthy this time around and made the most of his opportunity. And he made a difference. Hall threw for 220 yards and matched a state-title game record with five touchdown passes to lead top-ranked Cass Tech to a 49-20 victory over No. 3 Detroit Catholic Central.

Hall got Cass Tech off to a 7-0 lead just 31/2 minutes into the game, finding Teone Allen for a 33-yard TD pass.

Then, after throwing a pick-six when Jack Morris got in the passing lane on a screen pass intended for Donovan Johnson and returned it 35 yards for a 14-7 Catholic Central lead, Hall again found Allen for a 20-yard TD pass to pull even. And to think, Allen had just two TD receptions heading into the game.

Cass Tech offensive coordinator Dave Malecki knew his team would be able to pass on Catholic Central, and he went with the spread offense. Hall worked the system to perfection.

“It was very fun to play in this game,” said Hall, a Northern Illinois commitment. “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 14-0 and win the state championship.”

Hall threw TD passes in the second half of 49 and 13 yards to five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, giving him 17 touchdown receptions on the season, and a 42-yard TD toss to Donovan Parker.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Antonio Strong (40) runs a 58-yard punt return against Detroit Country Day

Country Day plays championship defense

Detroit Country Day coach Dan MacLean was at a loss for words after his team’s 10-7 loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Friday night in the Division 4 championship game. After all, Country Day’s defensive played championship-caliber defense, only to lose.

“It’s just hard to process it all right now,” MacLean said. “We just didn’t make enough plays on offense to give ourselves a chance because our defense played very well. I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”

Country Day limited Catholic Central to 60 yards of total offense and just one first down, a state record for fewest first downs allowed.

Country Day’s lone touchdown was scored when senior linebacker Adam Fakih pressured Jack Bowen into an interception which Roy McCree turned into an 82-yard TD return for a 7-3 lead with 4:54 left in the half.

"Great play, Adam, our senior captain, did a great job and Roy picked it off and took it to the house,” MacLean said. “I think we probably needed another one of those tonight.”

Said Fakih: “I just saw the roll-out and I just made a great read, sacked the quarterback and McCree made a heck of a play on the ball.”

Country Day was looking for its first state title since 1999. It also lost title games in 2007, ’08 and ’12.