Belleville’s players were celebrating on their home field Friday night following their 13-10 comeback victory over West Bloomfield.
Meanwhile, Farmington Hills Harrison’s players walked off its field Saturday afternoon in shock following its 21-14 loss to Chelsea, which put an end to its storied program with the school closing its doors after the 2018-19 school year.
Belleville had every reason to celebrate. After all, it was Belleville’s first regional championship in program history and came a year after having its season come to a crashing halt on their home field, an upset victim to Canton in the district final while failing to live up to expectations.
And, Belleville had to earn it, first stopping West Bloomfield on a fourth-and-inches play at the Belleville 19 with eight minutes left, then going on an 81-yard drive to take the lead on a three-yard touchdown run by Jalen Hunt with 3:49 left.
Harrison held a 14-7 fourth-quarter lead when Chelsea quarterback Quinn Starkey found Hunter Neff for an 11-yard touchdown pass to pull even with 2:07 left.
Still, it looked like Harrison was primed for a dramatic win when quarterback Keel Watson completed three passes to drive Harrison to the Chelsea 42 with just over a minute left.
But, things turned badly for Harrison when the snap to Watson was low, and instead of falling on the ball he tried to scoop it up and kicked it 15 yards back where Chelsea linebacker Nicklas Holmberg pounced on the ball at the Harrison 22, setting up Starkey’s 22-yard touchdown toss to Aaron McDaniels.
“We won a little bit lucky last week (13-10 overtime win at Detroit Country Day), and we lost a bit unlucky this week and that’s the way football is,” said Harrison legendary coach John Herrington, who finished his career with a state-record 443 wins and 13 state championships in 49 years. “Right now, it’s just like any other game you lost, you feel lousy, but you move on. We’re just not moving anywhere.
“It seems like just another game. I haven’t talked to much about it, but the only thing I thought about was how Don Meredith on Monday Night Football used to say, ‘Turn off the lights the party’s over,’ so I guess that’s my quote.”
While one program is over, Belleville is showing its has just begun.
No doubt, Belleville is used to battling back in the final moments to pull out wins, including a 40-35 season-opening win over Brighton, then coming back from a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Dearborn Fordson 29-26 in Week 6.
“We’ve been in so many now that I’m used to them, and I think they’re used to them too so they don’t get rattled,” Belleville fourth-year head coach Jermain Crowell said of winning close games.
Belleville — which was The News' preseason No. 1 team — was predicted to reach the Division 1 state semifinals this season, but predictions and actually reaching the Final Four are two different things.
Crowell was asked how it felt to be a regional champion, building the program to that level after coming over from Detroit Cass Tech, where he was defensive coordinator under Thomas Wilcher.
Instead of celebrating a major accomplishment, Crowell’s mind already was on other things such as No. 4 Belleville’s next opponent in No. 2 and unbeaten Chippewa Valley. The game will be played Saturday at 1 at Troy Athens with the winner advancing to the state title game at Ford Field Nov. 24.
Defending state champion and No. 11 Clarkston (10-2) will play No. 8 Saline (11-1) in the other semifinal at Okemos.
“I don’t know, like since they told me we got Chippewa I’m already thinking about Chippewa,” Crowell said. “When I was at Cass, the last regional I played for Mike Weber ran for all those yards, but I couldn’t stop them (in 2014). (Chippewa Valley coach) Scott Merchant gave me hell in the sand, so I have to try and get ready for that now.”
Crowell has reason for concern. Merchant’s teams know how to put points on the board, jumping out to a 35-7 halftime lead Friday night against a Fordson team that sent No. 1 Cass Tech to the sidelines the previous week with a dominating 41-14 district final win.
Chippewa Valley is loaded with talent, including three-year starting quarterback Tommy Schuster, Michigan State-bound linebacker Marcel Lewis, running back/defensive backs Andre Chenault and Ja’Von Kimpson and Indiana-bound David Ellis, who had 231 all-purpose yards, including a 99-yard TD run in the win over Fordson.
Crowell and Michigan State-bound Devontae Dobbs know Belleville has things to clean up, including penalties which wiped out two TD passe, along with multiple passes dropped against West Bloomfield.
“It feels great, but we’re nowhere done being finished,” Dobbs said. “We just have to keep working. During practice we’re the best that we’re ever going to go up against so all we have to do is compete with each other and we’ll be good. We know it’s going to be tough, but as long as we keep competing hard we’ll be fine.”
De La Salle's DeBerry shows versatility
With Warren De La Salle quarterback Nolan Schultz sidelined in the first half with a shoulder injury, Josh DeBerry came to the rescue and worked out of the wildcat to help defending Division 2 state champion De La Salle to a 21-3 win over Port Huron Northern.
DeBerry, a senior receiver/cornerback, caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Schultz on De La Salle’s opening drive, then took a direct snap early in the third quarter and sprinted 57 yards for a touchdown to open up a 14-3 cushion.
“Our quarterback went down in the second quarter so I played some quarterback, played for a couple of possessions to where we had a big enough lead,” DeBerry said. “I liked it a lot — used to take direct snaps when I was younger. I just had to do whatever I could do to help my team win.
“I think we should implement that (wildcat) into our offense, because we don’t know the status of our quarterback yet.”
No. 15 De La Salle has played outstanding defense — led by linebacker Jacob Dobbs and DeBerry — limiting its last four opponents to a combined 26 points.
De La Salle (10-2) will play unranked Birmingham Groves (10-2) Saturday at Hazel Park. No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores (11-1) plays Midland (9-3) in another semifinal at Grand Ledge.
Groves wins 10 straight after 0-2 start
Birmingham Groves earned its second regional championship in the last three years with a 53-29 win Friday night over Livonia Franklin.
Groves opened with losses to West Bloomfield (39-28) and Oak Park (13-7) before piling up 10 straight wins, needing just one more to make its first state title game appearance in program history.
Groves head coach Brendan Flaherty had high praise for his senior running back Damonte McCurdy.
“I think Damonte McCurdy has been lights-out for us both on offense and defense,” Flaherty said. “He’s been the heartbeat of our run here the past month. He’s a 1,000-yard back and free safety for us. He’s 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, a three-year varsity player who has been our leading tackler the last two years. He’s definitely a fast guy who returns punts and kicks for us. He's also extremely physical where he’ll come down and light you up.”
After trailing Franklin 2-0, Groves made big play after big play to take a 21-2 lead on a 67-yard touchdown run by Colby Taylor, a 30-yard touchdown run by McCurdy and an 8-yard touchdown toss by junior Markis Alexander to Christian Thomas.
Groves now turns to De La Salle, which has won 10 of 11.
“We have to find a way to slow them down and neutralize them, make them do some things they don’t want to do, then make some big plays of our own to score,” Flaherty said. “This has been a great, exciting time for the kids and coaches. It’s been an honor and we’re really, really excited about the whole process. The senior group of guys were determined to get to this point.”
King gets it done on ground, through air
After watching running back Peny Boone rush for 250 yards last week in a 34-14 Division 3 district win over Warren Woods Tower, Detroit King coach Tyrone Spencer was pleased to see Central Michigan-bound quarterback Dequan Finn have a hand in six touchdowns in a 54-15 regional final win over Allen Park.
Finn completed 9-of-10 passes for 204 yards, including touchdown tosses of 37 and 75 yards to Cincinnati-bound receiver Ahmad Gardner. He also ran for 127 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown scamper to open the scoring.
Next up for No. 10 King is a Division 3 state semifinal showdown with unbeaten DeWitt (12-0) Saturday at Brighton.
King and No. 3 Muskegon are on collision course for a rematch of the Week 2 battle won by Muskegon on its home turf, 24-21. Muskegon (12-0), the defending state champs, will play Zeeland East (11-1) at Grand Haven.