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Big plays propel Belleville past Livonia Franklin, into KLAA title game

Eric Coughlin
The Detroit News

Livonia — Belleville showed why some consider it the best football team in the state on Friday night, upending a feisty Livonia Franklin team, 39-29, on the road to clinch the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East Division title.

“I’m glad Franklin came out and fought,” Belleville coach Jermain Crowell said. “I’m proud of our guys for responding. Some kids stepped up with some big plays.”

Senior running back TyTrayon Lewis was a big part of Belleville’s signature big-play offense, going for 187 yards on nine carries and touchdown runs of 89, 12 and 50 yards.

“I just saw the holes, and I ran through them,” Lewis said. “We’ve just got to stick together in the playoffs. It was a good win.”

Junior quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid overcame a slow start for Belleville (8-0, 7-0) in front of a raucous crowd to finish 9-for-18 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns.

His counterpart, senior quarterback Jake Kelbert, also a three-year starter, had an up-and-down game for Franklin (6-2, 5-2). He finished 13-for-27 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions, to go with 15 rushes for 85 yards and three scores on the ground.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win,” Franklin coach Chris Kelbert said. “It’s always the same thing — big plays. Jake made a lot of great plays. We knew passing the ball would be a struggle. Belleville’s defensive backfield is one of the best in the state, but I thought we threw it well considering.”

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Franklin, just two seasons removed from a Division 2 state final appearance, got on the board first with a 1-yard touchdown run from Kelbert, making it 7-0. But Belleville, ranked No. 2 by The Detroit News, struck back a couple possessions later when Lewis made one cut and burst into open field for an 89-yard touchdown run. Belleville missed the extra point leaving Franklin with a 7-6 lead.

On Belleville’s next possession, Dhue-Reid, a three-year starter, found senior wide receiver Christopher Zaharie over the middle for a 63-yard catch and run to make it 12-7 for Belleville.

Dhue-Reid made an even better pass moments later when he hit sophomore wide receiver Christian Rapley on a slant for an 11-yard score, extending Belleville’s lead to 18-7.

Belleville quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid

Franklin fought back just before halftime, mounting a drive capped by a 28-yard Connor McIntosh field goal to make it 18-10 at the break.

With 5:54 left in the third quarter and Franklin facing a third-and-9, Kelbert scrambled out of the pocket and found junior tight end Evan Pittenger on the left sideline. Pittenger picked his way to the goal line and dove into the end zone to cut Belleville’s lead to 18-16.

Belleville then embarked on a penalty-aided drive capped by a 12-yard rumbling Lewis touchdown, making it 25-16 for Belleville.

“We call him muscle,” Crowell said about Lewis. “He’s always been an explosive back. He was having some problems holding onto the ball junior year, but he’s held onto it well this season.”

Franklin answered right back with a 70-yard drive. Kelbert called his own number and found lots of room off the right tackle, sprinting to a 38-yard score and cutting Belleville’s lead back 25-23 at the end of the third quarter.

Chris Kelbert then rolled the dice with an onside kick attempt, which was successfully recovered. Moments later, Jake Kelbert was plunging into the end zone on a 4-yard run, giving Franklin the lead for the first time since the first quarter, 29-25.

On the ensuing kickoff, Belleville senior Connor Bush took a short kick all the way to the house, tilting the score back in Belleville’s favor, 32-29.

“That kickoff return — we’ve got all the momentum on our side and then that happens,” Chris Kelbert said. “You can’t do that stuff and win.”

Franklin was able to get back into Belleville territory, but Kelbert was picked off by junior Raymond Anderson, and then Lewis burst through the line again for a 50-yard touchdown to seal it for Belleville.

Belleville’s focus can now shift to next week’s KLAA championship game against No. 20 Plymouth and then an expected lengthy playoff run, but the Franklin game provided plenty of lessons moving forward.

“The teams in the playoffs like the Salines, the Chippewa Valleys and the Romeos, the teams that are used to doing it year in and year out, the big plays won’t be enough (against them),” Crowell said, who is in his fifth season at Belleville’s helm. “We’ve got to get consistent at doing the little things and practicing that way. I liked what Franklin did on offense. It took me too long to figure it out, but we’ve got to start playing better on defense.”

Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.