Belleville enters the state playoffs in search of its first championship, but takes the field with the talent and experience to get the job done.
Belleville won its first playoff game in 15 years two years ago, then won its first regional title last season before losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Chippewa Valley.
Belleville — 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in The Detroit News Super 20 — has more than a dozen Division 1 caliber players, including Michigan-bound cornerback Andre Seldon, four-star junior tackle Damon Payne, four-star junior linebacker Jamari Buddin, three-star junior tackle Ramier Lewis and Indiana-bound tackle Coleon Smith.
While Belleville’s third-year starting quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid is still without a college offer, he certainly knows how to win. He has helped his team to a 33-game regular-season unbeaten streak, including fourth-quarter comeback wins at No. 6 Dearborn Fordson (20-19) and No. 20 Livonia Franklin (39-29), along with a dominating performance Friday in a 41-14, KLAA championship game win at then-No. 17 Plymouth.
“I tell the coaches while everybody else is panicking I’m excited because the kids needed to go through these tough situations, they need to face adversity,” fifth-year Belleville head coach Jermain Crowell said of his team’s wins over Fordson and Franklin.
Belleville’s reward? A predistrict matchup with Saline, which has won eight straight since a season-opening loss to Chippewa Valley.
“Saline isn’t messing around, Palka is for real,” Crowell said of Saline coach Joe Palka, who has a 79-13 record the last eight years.
Crowell, however, is pleased to be going into the postseason with an experienced quarterback like Dhue-Reid.
“You can tell his growth and maturity from years past,” Crowell said. “He’s listening now instead of talking. He’s come a long way."
Dhue-Reid has a lot of weapons to work with, including running backs Michael Jenkins Jr. and TyTrayon Lewis and receivers Deion Burks, 6-foot-4 Jalen Williams, Seldon, Darrell Johnson, Connor Bush and sophomores Christian Rapley, Deshaun Lee and Jeremiah Caldwell.
While Belleville has to be considered the favorite, No. 4 West Bloomfield — The News' preseason No. 1 team in the state — and No. 3 Chippewa Valley could also be making runs.
West Bloomfield lost to Belleville in a regional final last year, 13-10, while playing without standout running back Donovan Edwards, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 7.
Edwards is healthy and running well, making West Bloomfield dangerous in the postseason.
West Bloomfield has an experienced quarterback in Ohio-bound C.J. Harris, along with a dominant defense which allowed a total of 14 points the last four games, including a 16-8 win over two-time defending Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle on Friday night.
“We’re playing well, have only given up 14 points the last four weeks so those guys are playing at a high level and we just have to keep playing hard and play smart, disciplined football,” said West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy, who guided his team to the Division 1 title game in 2017, a 3-2 loss to Clarkston.
West Bloomfield’s defense is led by Michigan-bound linebacker Cornell Wheeler and Michigan-bound safety Makari Paige.
“We’re pretty healthy, C.J. is a tough runner, tough passer and Donovan had a good game against De La Salle,” Bellamy said.
Edwards rushed for more than 100 yards against De La Salle and threw a TD pass. He was put in the wildcat formation by Bellamy.
Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant has done an outstanding job, filling multiple holes left open with graduation losses following its state championship.
Merchant put Josh Kulka in at quarterback, replacing standout Tommy Schuster, who set multiple school records, including 14-for-14 for 209 yards and a TD in the 31-30 championship game win over Clarkston.
And, don’t forget Myren Harris, a first-year starter at running back, getting the job done at a high level behind a talented, experienced line. He has rushed for 1,440 yards and 19 TDs, including 392 on 40 carries the last two weeks, busting loose for a 53-yard TD two weeks ago in a 21-17 win over Romeo to help Chippewa Valley win the MAC Red title outright for a second straight season.
Harris’ twin brother Myles has showed he has the big-play ability that David Ellis (Indiana) did last season, returning a kickoff 91 yards for a TD against Romeo.
No. 15 Woodhaven won the Downriver League title and capped off its unbeaten season with a 49-28 win over Birmingham Groves, scoring 21 unanswered points in the final quarter.
Defending champion: Chippewa Valley
Contender: West Bloomfield
Dark horse: Chippewa Valley
State final prediction: Belleville over Chippewa Valley
Toughest district: Region 2, District 2 with Saline (8-1) playing at No. 2 Belleville (9-0) and Ann Arbor Pioneer (5-4) at No. 15 Woodhaven.
Toughest region: Region 2 with No. 4 West Bloomfield and No. 2 Belleville having a potential showdown for the regional championship. Belleville defeated West Bloomfield in last year’s regional final at Belleville
Notable: Clarkston had its run of 16 straight years in the postseason come to an end, but Detroit Cass Tech, Macomb Dakota and Canton won Week 9 games to be among the nine 5-4 teams in the field to keep their respective postseason streaks a live at 12, 19 and 12.
Oak Park wants what Detroit King and Warren De La Salle have, a state championship trophy.
King has won three state titles in the past four years, winning Division 2 crowns in 2015 and ’16 and the Division 3 championship last year.
De La Salle won a Division 2 title in 2014 and again in 2017 and ’18.
King has done an outstanding job of bouncing back from consecutive losses to Detroit Catholic Central and No. 1 Muskegon to start the season, entering postseason play with a seven-game winning streak, including a 27-6 PSL title game win over Denby on Friday.
De La Salle got in at 5-4 playing a tough schedule which included losses to No. 1 Muskegon, No. 4 West Bloomfield and No. 9 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Still, all eyes will be on Oak Park to see if it can reach Ford Field after hitting a roadblock in De La Salle the last two years.
Oak Park coach Greg Carter has confidence in senior quarterback Frank Black, who has replaced Dwan Mathis (Georgia), and has multiple assets to work with in Purdue-bound receiver Maliq Carr and Dayvon Young, along with running back Devonta Twymon.
“We’re trying to do something special this year,” said Twymon, who runs a 4.5 40 and is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing, working behind a line led by Kentucky-bound tackle Justin Rogers and four-star junior Rayshaun Benny, who has 31 offers, including Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon and Michigan State. “My line is special, they’re talented and fight for me, and Frank is having a great season, can run and throw the ball.”
Oak Park wouldn’t face De La Salle until the state semifinals.
King has some tremendous talent of its own, including Maryland-bound running back Peny Boone, Indiana-bound receiver Rashawn Williams, four-star junior safety Jaylen Reed and freshman quarterback Dante Moore, who already owns offers from Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Receiver Marshawn Lee could be King’s most exciting player, running for a first down on a fake punt, then grabbing a pass from Moore on a center screen play on fourth down and turning it into a 47-yard TD for a 20-6 lead during the PSL win over Denby.
“He’s a tremendous player for us right now, leading our receiving corps, just doing a phenomenal job and we have to continue to get that kind of play out of him,” King coach Tyrone Spencer said.
And, of Boone who was an impact player during last year’s title run?
“Last week, this week he’s playing well, he was leaning forward, getting positive yardage and he’s a good receiver in the passing game,” Spencer said of Boone, who was also in the wildcat Friday. “It was a difference maker (wildcat). We’ll use him again in it. It’s the state playoffs and we have to empty the gun, use everything we have to keep it going, but I really like how our defense is playing.”
Spencer should be pleased with his defense. King has allowed just 36 points since the 0-2 start.
Walled Lake Western coach Alex Grignon has to be happy with his quarterback situation with Jonathan Abele proving to be a more than capable backup when standout Zach Trainor has been banged up in multiple games.
Trainor and Abele have numerous options to work with in Northwestern-bound receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen (57 receptions, 1,175 yards, 13 TDs), 6-5 Sam Ahern and C.J. Brown.
De La Salle has played a strong schedule and could get hot and make a big run as well, but has a challenge in the pre-district when it plays at Birmingham Groves.
It will be interesting to see how well North Farmington performs in the postseason after the new staff, led by first-time head coach Jon Herstein — with help from John Herrington, Mill Coleman and Dave Thorne — guided the program to its first unbeaten regular season in 41 years.
Herstein worked under Herrington, who guided Farmington Hills Harrison to a state record 443 wins and 13 state championships.
Defending champion: Warren De La Salle
Favorite: Oak Park
Contender: Detroit King
Dark horse: Warren De La Salle
State final prediction: Oak Park over Walled Lake Western
Toughest district: Region 1, District 1 with Midland Dow (6-3) playing at Traverse City Central (8-1) and Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2) playing at Midland (8-1). Midland had its unbeaten season come to an end Friday at the hands of Midland Dow, 42-7.
Toughest region: Region 3 with No. 5 Oak Park having a potential regional final showdown with PSL champion and No. 12 Detroit King.
Notable: Five 5-4 teams made the field, including two-time state champion Warren De La Salle. Unbeaten North Farmington has a possible district final showdown with Farmington if North can get past U-D Jesuit and Farmington beats Oak Park.
Muskegon is the top team in the state, traveling to Detroit multiple times for wins over defending Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle (41-7) and defending Division 3 champion Detroit King (41-18) to open the season, then dominating rival Muskegon Mona Shores in Week 8, 53-0.
Muskegon showcases arguably the most exciting player in the state in Ohio State-bound Cameron Martinez, who has done an outstanding job running the offense for the second year.
Muskegon’s defense is special as well, earning five shutouts in the last six weeks while outscoring its opponents 334-10.
“When you get a King and a De La Salle, it just ends up being a great deal for both teams and benefits you,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield. “When you come out of it, win or lose you’re a better ball club for it and I think that’s the way we’ve been able to play at such a high level because we’ve had to play at a high level. We’ve played pretty much every type of team, spread (King), run (De La Salle), then Mona’s an option team, so I think that’s helped us as well.
“I think everybody is finding out that Cameron is surrounded by a bunch of other good players. We have other players who are stepping up, Tommy Watts, Japrie Henderson and Quenten Reynolds and all those other guys on offense are doing a great job, but the strength of the team is that they like each other.
“You really can’t tell who the seniors are and the juniors are. We have some junior leaders, our secondary with Tyreese Oaks and Julius Sims, I haven’t seen two safeties that play like these two dudes in a long time.”
Martinez helped Muskegon reach the Division 3 title game last year before a 41-25 loss to King.
Muskegon has advanced to the title game the last three years, losing to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the 2016 title game, 29-28.
St. Mary’s, which won Division 3 championships from 2014-16, is back after missing the playoffs the previous two years.
St. Mary’s — 8-1 and ranked No. 8 — won the Catholic League title Saturday with a 13-0 win over Detroit Catholic Central at Rynearson Stadium, avenging a 20-14 Week 7 loss, with 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Anton getting loose for TD runs of 53 and 58 yards in heavy rain.
“I think our schedule helps a lot, our league is a pretty loaded league and it gets you battle-tested for the state playoffs,” St. Mary’s coach George Porritt said. “The bad part is you may not make it (like Catholic Central at 4-5, despite wins over Detroit King, St. Mary’s).
“Our kids are playing hard and we’re a very solid football team. We’re good size up front and had been lacking size the previous couple of years. These kids have worked really hard in the offseason and it’s fun to coach these guys.”
Plus, Porritt has an experienced quarterback in Grant Henson and quality backs in Anton and Garnett Davis, receivers/defensive backs in Kameron Arnold and Anthony Enechukwu, along with an outstanding kicker in Tommy Doman.
Edwardsburg is also a threat to get to Ford Field after winning the Division 4 title last season with a win over Chelsea … which also moved up to Division 3.
Defending champion: Detroit King
Contender: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
Dark horse: Edwardsburg
State final prediction: Muskegon over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
Toughest district: Region 2, District 1 with Zeeland East (5-4) playing at Zeeland West (8-1) and St. Joseph (6-3) playing at No. 9 Edwardsburg (9-0).
Toughest region: Region 4 with a potential regional final showdown between No. 14 River Rouge and No. 8 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Notable: The are five 5-4 teams in the field. River Rouge has to love the pairings this time around after losing to eventual state champion Detroit King, 7-6, in a predistrict game last year.
With unbeaten Edwardsburg moving up to Division 3, Detroit Country Day is the team to beat, coming in unbeaten and playing well.
“We feel we have a team that compares to past teams that have done well for us,” Country Day coach Dan MacLean said. “That said, it’s high school athletics and there are no sure things. Football playoffs are always difficult, especially the first round.”
MacLean is confident with quarterback Ahlon Mitchell.
“Ahlon Mitchell is our quarterback, playing very well, a great decision-maker, running and throwing with confidence and doing a great job leading,” MacLean said. “Anthony Ammori is running with confidence and great vision, and Marcus Sheppard is making big plays on both sides of the ball at receiver and defensive back.
“Owen Bergin, our running back and defensive back has been playing and leading with passion and Chris Rea is playing great defense at linebacker and making huge plays at running back despite being used strategically. Jacob Yarberry, Danny MacLean and Brandon Mann have made contributions on both sides of the ball.
“Our offensive and defensive lines have been the foundation led by Will Leggon, Caleb Tiernan, Nich Wachol, Sam Erjavac, and Billy Abdallah have been consistent. Saborn Campbell has also made big plays in every game.”
The last time Country Day played in the championship game it lost to Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 10-7 in 2016.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central repeated as Division 4 champion in ’17 with a 42-31 win over Edwardsburg, then lost to Edwardsburg in a semifinal last season, 46-44.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (8-1) — led by dual-threat quarterback Joey Silveri and three-star junior receiver Jace Williams, who has offers from Michigan State and Nebraska — has played a challenging schedule this season, defeating No. 16 River Rouge 17-14 in the season opener and defeating Zeeland East — which advanced to the Division 3 semifinals last year — 35-17 in Week 3.
Paw Paw and Muskegon Orchard View will also be threats to make deep runs, as will unbeaten Milan and Eastern Michigan-bound athlete Tristen Hines, who has rushed for 1,000 yards as a dual-threat quarterback.
Defending champion: Edwardsburg
Favorite: Detroit Country Day
Contender: Grand Rapids Catholic Central
Dark horse: Milan
State final prediction: Detroit Country Day over Grand Rapids Catholic Central
Toughest district: Region 1, District 2 with Grand Rapids Catholic Central and unbeaten Muskegon Orchard View in a possible district showdown.
Toughest region: Region 4 with two unbeaten powers in Detroit Country Day and Milan have a possible showdown for the title.
Notable: Seven 5-4 teams and two 4-4 teams, including Harper Woods Chandler Park and Rod Oden’s Harper Woods, team made the field.
Marine City, Muskegon Oakridge, Kingsley and Almont are unbeaten and could be celebrating Thanksgiving weekend with a state title.
But Lansing Catholic Central, Frankenmuth, Portland and Hopkins have had strong seasons and are threats to win multiple games.
Marine City will try to send Ron Glodich out in style with him set to retire after 33 years. He has a great stopper in defensive lineman Josh Headlee while quarterback Colby Walker runs the offense with help from Aren Sopfe and Charles Tigert.
It was the second straight unbeaten regular season for Almont as coach James Leusby is getting great play from quarterback Josh Hellebuyck, running backs Jack Paupert and Jacob Castillo and receiver Colby Schapman.
Detroit Denby could make a run after solid efforts in losses to PSL champion Detroit King.
Defending champion: Hudsonville Unity Christian
Favorite: Muskegon Oakridge
Contender: Marine City
Dark horse: Detroit Denby
State final prediction: Muskegon Oakridge over Detroit Denby
Toughest district: Region 1, District 1 with unbeaten Muskegon Oakridge and Kingsley having a possible showdown in the final.
Toughest regional: Region 2 with unbeaten Berrien Springs having a potential regional final showdown against either Lansing Catholic Central, Portland or Olivet.
Notable: Six 5-4 teams made the field, including Kalamazoo Hackett, which came back from a 20-point deficit to defeat standout running back Kobe Clark and Schoolcraft, 35-27, in Week 9 to get in.
With three-time defending champion Jackson Lumen Christ dropping to Division 7, the door opens for Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Ithaca, Niles Brandywine and others.
SMCC (7-1), looking for its first state title since winning the Division 6 championship in 2014, has averaged 370 rushing yards, led by 1,000-yard rusher Alex Morgan, along with Sam Cousino and Wyatt Bergmoser.
SMCC’s lone loss came at the hands of Huron League rival and unbeaten Milan, 28-21 in Week 3.
Ithaca (8-1) knows its way to Ford Field, winning four straight Division 6 championships from 2010-13, then advancing to the title game again in ’14, losing to SMCC, and in ’17, losing to Lumen Christi.
Defending champion: Jackson Lumen Christi
Favorite: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central
Dark horse: Niles Brandywine
State final Prediction: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central over Ithaca
Toughest district: Region 3, District 1 with unbeaten Niles Brandywine and Hillsdale in a potential final.
Toughest regional: Region 4 with Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Montrose and Warren Michigan Collegiate
Notable: Six 5-4 teams made the field.
This is Herb Brogan’s 40th season as head coach at Lumen Christi and all he knows how to do is win games and state championships.
Brogan is the fourth-winningest coach (365-83) in state history and has guided Lumen Christi to nine state championships, eight since 2000.
New Lothrop will be in the picture once again after defeating Madison Heights Madison in the title game last year, as will Pewamo-Westphalia which won consecutive state titles in 2016 and ’17.
New Lothrop (9-0) is led by Grand Valley State-bound quarterback Avery Moore, who threw for 99 yards and ran for 132 yards and four TDs in last year’s 50-44 title game win over Madison Heights Madison.
PSL B champion Detroit Central (8-1) is playing well and could do some postseason damage with junior quarterback Elijah Granger having multiple weapons to work with, including Orlando Clarkston, Kenyetta McKeever and Justyz Tuggle.
Defending champion: New Lothrop
Favorite: Jackson Lumen Christi
Contender: New Lothrop
Dark horse: Schoolcraft
State final prediction: Jackson Lumen Christi over New Lothrop.
Toughest district: Region 3 District 2 with unbeatens Lumen Christi and Clinton in a potential district final showdown.
Toughest regional: Region 2 with unbeatens New Lothrop, Pewamo-Westphalia and Beaverton in the field.
Notables: Four 5-4 teams made the field, along with 4-4 Detroit Loyola, who could cause problems in a predistrict game at PSL Division 2 champion Detroit Central.
Defending champion Reading has reeled off eight straight wins since a season-opening loss to Division 7 power Pewamo-Westphalia, giving up just six points in the last four weeks with that TD coming after it had built a 51-0 fourth-quarter lead over Addison in a 51-6 win on Saturday.
Reading has a mammoth offensive line and pounds the ball on the ground, averaging 51.4 points since that 14-0 loss to P-W.
Elijah Strine and Hunter Midtgard are among the running backs who played well in last year’s 39-20 title game win over Breckenridge.
Defending champion: Reading
Contender: Harbor Beach
Dark horse: Clarkston Everest Collegiate
State final prediction: Reading over Harbor Beach.
Toughest district: Region 4, District 1 with Reading and unbeaten Cassopolis in a potential final. White Pigeon and Mendon are in the same district.
Toughest regional: Region 4 with Adrian Lenawee possibly facing Reading for the title and right to move on.
Notables: Nine 5-4 teams made the field, including Ottawa Lake Whiteford, which won the state title in 2017.