Troy — Belleville's offense came in flurries, but like the snow on Saturday afternoon, it had trouble accumulating.
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley's defense plowed Belleville's talented offense under to claim a 28-16 victory in a Division 1 football semifinal played at Troy Athens.
Chippewa Valley (13-0) will head to the state championship at Ford Field after losing in the regional finals last season in a heartbreaker.
"Our kids played their hearts out, and the defense played a great game," Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant said. "We've worked really hard to get to this point. For as bad as I felt last year when we lost on the last play, I'm just so proud of our kids. This is the first time our program has won 13 games, the first time we'll be playing in the Division 1 state championship."
Senior quarterback Tommy Schuster was Chippewa Valley's offensive catalyst. He went an efficient 8-for-11 throwing for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He has 24 passing touchdowns against one interception for the season.
"It's awesome. It's unbelievable. We put in so much work to this, so I knew it was possible," Schuster said. "We had everything working and got some good looks. It was a challenge, but we didn't look at who had (college) offers where, we just went out and played our game."
"Tommy's a three-year starter," Merchant said. "I think he's got 23 touchdowns and one interception this year. For no college to offer him a scholarship is absolutely ridiculous. All the kid does is win. He can make plays with his feet. He can make them with his arm, and he's the smartest quarterback I've ever coached. When you have a guy like that leading your offense for three years it makes my job a lot easier as a head coach. He makes me look smarter."
Two of Schuster's touchdown passes went to senior wide receiver David Ellis, an Indiana commit. Ellis totaled three catches for 77 yards.
"We're clicking on all cylinders. We've known each other forever," Ellis said about the offense. "That's the difference between us and other teams. We're a team of brothers. They're an explosive offense, but I feel we're one of the best teams, offense and defense."
Senior wide receiver and defensive back Martice Bunting opened the scoring with a 20-yard catch on a slant route. It was his first touchdown of the playoffs and his only reception for the game.
"When I ran that route, I knew I had to get over the top, and I knew Tommy (Schuster) was going to give me a good ball," Bunting said. "We've been working hard since the off-season."
Chippewa Valley's final touchdown came on an 11-yard run by senior running back Andre Chenault, who had 87 hard-earned yards on 18 carries, with the longest going for 11. Chenault is a compact 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds. His low center of balance and size allowed him to drag Belleville defenders for extra yards. When Chippewa Valley run plays were stuffed, Chenault almost always found a way to get a couple yards.
"It feels great. We've been working hard every week. They (Belleville) had a good defensive line and good linebackers, very physical. We were just trying to gain as many yards as we could. Don't go backwards because that's bad for us."
The loss ends Belleville's state championship hopes and the high school careers of several Division 1 college-bound players, like senior defensive back and wide receiver Julian Barnett (Michigan State) and offensive tackle Devontae Dobbs (Michigan State). Barnett and junior defensive back Andre Seldon dealt with nagging injuries during the playoffs but played on Saturday.
"All the credit goes to them (Chippewa Valley)," Belleville coach Jermain Crowell said. "We had some young guys out there, some freshmen, and in a game like this, they're going to go after the freshmen. I was trying to hold up on using Julian (Barnett) and Dre (Andre Seldon) because they're pretty banged up, but they were able to suck it up in the second half."
Chippewa Valley scored on its first drive. On a third and 5 in its own territory, Schuster scrambled out of the pocket and found senior running back Ja’Von Kimpson open on the right sideline. Kimpson tip-toed down the sideline for a 39-yard gain to extend the drive. A few plays later, Schuster hit Bunting on the slant route for a 20-yard touchdown. The first quarter ended with Chippewa Valley up, 7-0.
Belleville answered on its next drive with a 22-yard field goal, and after Schuster was sacked twice, Chippewa Valley was forced to punt, giving Belleville the ball on its 45, but a three-and-out handed the ball back to Chippewa Valley. After a steady drive, Schuster found Ellis streaking down the middle of the field, wide open. Schuster didn’t miss and Ellis waltzed into the end zone, untouched to make it 14-3 for Chippewa Valley.
Belleville (12-1) responded with a 40-yard, scoring, catch-and-run by sophomore wide receiver Darrell Johnson, taking advantage of excellent downfield blocking by junior wide receiver Jalen Williams, drawing closer, 14-10.
Chippewa Valley came right back. From 33 yards out, Ellis ran across the formation on an end-around and took a shovel pass from behind the line of scrimmage all the way to paydirt, breaking several tackles along the way, and putting Chippewa Valley up 21-10.
Belleville drove with just a few minutes left before half, but senior defensive lineman Jonathan Zak intercepted sophomore quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid to end the scoring threat and, effectively, the second quarter.
Offensive play slowed down significantly in the third quarter. Belleville recorded a sack but attempted an ill-fated fake punt, giving Chippewa Valley good field position to start the fourth quarter.
Neither team scored in the final frame until Chenault broke through for his 11-yard score with 1:13 left to put Chippewa Valley up, 28-10. Dhue-Rheid found Williams for a 21-yard touchdown pass but only 23 seconds remained and Chippewa Valley recovered the ensuing onside kick, ending the game.
Chippewa Valley will play Clarkston (11-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ford Field for the championship. Clarkston beat Saline (11-2), 21-3, in its semifinal.
"I told the kids I wanted to buy them Thanksgiving Dinner and have it as a team, and I want us to go to Ford Field for the state championship, and I don't want any of us to buy a ticket." Merchant said, becoming emotional. "And we're going to be doing that."
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.