Detroit — All eyes were on Detroit King freshman quarterback Dante Moore in the Prep Kickoff Classic Saturday afternoon at Wayne State University’s Adams Field.
After all, Moore received an offer from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh before even finishing seventh grade.
Moore’s high school debut didn’t go as planned, especially in the opening minutes … and it was due to no fault of his own.
Instead, drops and bobbles by Maryland-bound running back Peny Boone led to turnovers on King’s first two possessions and No. 18 Detroit Catholic Central turned them into touchdowns for a 14-0 cushion, then building a 24-0 lead before holding on for a 24-22 upset of No. 3 King.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Moore tossed a screen pass to Boone in the left flat — which was actually a lateral — and Boone couldn’t come up with the ball and Catholic Central’s Mo Jaffer recovered at the King 27.
Catholic Central took advantage with junior quarterback Jack Beno finding Sam Dersa over the middle for 21 yards on fourth-and-9 to the 5, leading to Brendin Yatooma’s 5-yard TD run.
On King’s next drive, Moore tossed a short center screen to Boone, who bobbled it, and Zach Rood intercepted the pass at the King 42.
Beno quickly went to work and found Cody Daraban on a center screen for 34 yards to the King 13, which was followed by Beno’s 12-yard run and Yatooma’s 1-yard TD run with 6:43 left in the first quarter.
Catholic Central dominated in the trenches for most of the half, scoring on its first four possessions for a 24-0 cushion with Charlie Mentzer’s 32-yard field goal opening a 17-0 lead, then Beno directing a 75-yard drive, including a 53-yard pass to Jonathan Brewer, leading to Cole Price’s 3-yard TD run with 4:34 left in the half.
At the time of Price’s TD run, Catholic Central held a 224-24 advantage in total yards.
“We have to help him out,” said King coach Tyrone Spencer of Moore, who completed 20-of-27 passes for 200 yards and two TDs. “We dropped the ball in the backfield and they recovered, then it was 14-to-zip off of turnovers, so we have to help him out.
“I thought he played good. I thought he showed that he was resilient coming back and putting us in position to win the game.”
Moore threw a 9-yard TD pass to Kenny Merrieweather to cut the deficit to 24-14 late in the first half and then completed 7-of-9 passes for 80 yards, which was capped off with a 20-yard TD pass to Rashawn Williams to pull within 24-21 with 8:48 left.
King — which won its third state championship in the last four years last season — had multiple chances to pull the game out, including one when it had a first-and-goal at the 8 with four minutes left, only to have Moore barely miss connecting with Williams on a fade pattern in the left corner of the end zone, just before getting sacked by Jack Birks on the next play, fumbling with linebacker Gabe Xuereb recovering to end the threat.
King had another chance when the ball sailed over Catholic Central’s punter’s head and into the end zone, but two players failed to pounce on the ball for a TD … and lead.
King four-star junior safety Jaylen Reed shoved the punter away from the ball and had a clear path to it, but while going after the ball a teammate tried to jump on it and the ball scooted out of the end zone for a safety.
King did get the ball at Catholic Central 47 with 1:20 left following the kick, but Moore’s pass for Williams was intercepted by Price.
“I knew that they were throwing to their star player (Williams), so I was watching out for him since he was the go-to all game,” said Price of his pivotal interception, noting that Williams had six receptions for 71 yards. “I just sat back, reading it, saw the quarterback open up and just came out and made the play.
“It was just insane (final minutes), just all the turnovers back and forth, had the crowd cheering and booing. It was just crazy. We just stuck in there together. We just knew we needed to go through this adversity and get this win.”
Beno was outstanding in the first half, completing 4-of-8 for 140 yards, but struggled in the second half, having one pass intercepted in the end zone by King defensive back Joe Frazier in the third quarter, then another picked off by linebacker Antoine Evans, leading to King’s fourth-quarter TD.
After trailing 24-0, things changed in a hurry for King when Marshawn Lee scored on a 96-yard kickoff return.
Then, King forced a turnover when Beno was hit hard after an eight-yard gain, fumbled and freshman linebacker Denero Harris recovered at the Catholic Central 45.
Moore went to work, finding Lynn Wyche-El for 26 yards to the 19, then hitting Lee for 13 yards to the 8, and finally a 9-yard toss to a wide open Kenny Merrieweather in the left corner of the end zone, followed by Moore’s 2-point pass to Boone to cut the deficit to 24-14.
“I told them early when we had those turnovers that we could come back,” Spencer said. “We’re going to be a tough and resilient team. It’s early for us and we’re going to get better. As the season goes, I like this team.”
And, of the bad snap to Catholic Central’s punt?
“That would have been the game right there,” Spencer said. “I didn’t even think that that was going to happen. I was just trying to get the return when they botched that snap, but we didn’t get it (fumble in the end zone). They played us well. They’re a good team.”
Catholic Central was outstanding against the run, limiting King to 38 yards (17 carries), limiting Boone to 15 yards on 12 carries with linebackers Yatooma and Sean Field playing well.
Yatooma ended one King drive by tackling Boone for a yard loss on a fourth-and-2 at the Catholic Central 37 in the fourth. Field had two big hits on Moore.