Brighton — When Belleville changed conferences from the Western Wayne to the KLAA, this is what it wanted. Tougher regular season football games so that it would be more battle-tested by the time playoffs rolled around.
No. 1-ranked Belleville got quite the fight on Thursday night, and it took a half to get on the right track, but coach Jermain Crowell’s team pulled out a 40-35 season-opening road win over Brighton.
The hero for Belleville was junior wide receiver Jalen Williams, who hauled down a fade pass in the end zone with 15 seconds left to put Belleville ahead. Belleville was only down one point on Brighton’s 6-yard line, but a field-goal attempt was not an option as Belleville’s kicker was injured.
“It was a good team win,” Williams said. “All I remember is me catching the ball. I love my quarterback. He’s the best quarterback in the state.
Belleville’s man behind center, sophomore Christian Dhue-Reid, threw for 336 yards with four touchdowns to carry Belleville’s offense.
“There’s no DB that can take Jalen Williams,” Dhue-Reid said. “Last year was kind of tough on me. I was a freshman, kind of nervous. I’m a lot more comfortable this year.”
Belleville Coach Jermain Crowell was happy to get the win and impressed with his quarterback, but also disappointed in the kicking game’s troubles.
“I think he’s (Dhue-Reid) matured. He looked like a quarterback today.”
Crowell was concerned about how his young secondary would gel this season, but the problems on defense seemed to be happening up front, especially in the first half. Brighton rushed for more than 200 yards in the first two quarters, getting gashed by senior quarterback Will Jontz and his physical running style.
Jontz finished with 182 yards rushing and four touchdowns, plus 62 yards passing and a score.
Brighton struck first on its first possession, driving 58 yards. Jontz spun around a defender and scampered 24 yards to put Brighton on top, 7-0.
Jontz added touchdown runs of 58 and 24 yards later in the first half to account for all of Brighton’s first half touchdowns.
Dhue-Reid showed off his strong arm in the second quarter, finding senior wide receiver Julian Barnett streaking into the end zone with a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Also in the second quarter, Belleville junior wide receiver Dylan Harris ran across the formation and took a handoff for a 48-yard touchdown, jetting down the right sideline to knot it at 14.
Later in the second quarter, Dhue-Reid unleashed a 48-yard rocket down the left sideline to Barnett’s second receiving touchdown on the night.
Belleville’s offense revolved around the deep threat. If Dhue-Reid had time, he launched it deep. Many attempts fell incomplete, but the ones that hit were big gains. Dhue-Reid had 142 yards passing in the first half.
The half ended 21-20 for Brighton.
Belleville also beat Brighton in last season’s opener after a fourth quarter comeback.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.