River Rouge has long been known for its basketball program, and for good reason, since it has won 14 state championships, 12 under the guidance of the legendary coach Lofton Greene and the last two (1998, ’99) under Lamonta Stone.
Now River Rouge gets to hang a state championship banner for football, as well.
River Rouge (13-1) shocked the state high school world Saturday night at Ford Field with a dominating 30-7 rout of No. 1 Muskegon and Ohio State-bound quarterback Cameron Martinez.
With Muskegon looking to shut down River Rouge’s physical 6-foot, 240-pound back De’Andre Bulley, the strategy opened the door for junior quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski to play like Martinez has in the past, rushing for 175 yards and three TDs.
Hrabowski showed he is strong and fast at 6-3 and 205 pounds, breaking loose for a 48-yard run to set up his 1-yard TD run to pull River Rouge even at 7 early in the first quarter, then scoring on a 40-yard run for a 14-7 lead with 58 seconds left in the half. Hrabowski then scampered 35 yards for a TD in the opening seconds of the third quarter for a 21-7 cushion.
“Mareyohn Hrabowski completed passes and made long runs when he needed to and definitely made big plays,” said River Rouge coach Corey Parker. “They were keying on Bulley and Bulley did a good job of letting the game come to him. He played nice and relaxed, and when they came and tackled him when he didn’t have the ball, he carried out his fake and Mareyohn was able to pull it out of his stomach and keep running.”
Said Hrabowski: “Our offensive line blocked and we executed well. I read all of the blocks and I have good vision, so I just took it and ran. Jalen Johnson, Chance Moore, Josh Poole and Deshawn Smith made some great blocks for me.”
The state title is the culmination of a 10-year process for Parker, who played at powerhouse Detroit DePorres in the early 2000s.
Parker guided River Rouge to the Division 5 state championship game in 2015, but it came up short in a 40-34 shootout loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic which was in the midst of a run of five consecutive state titles.
Parker thought he had the team last year to make a run, but it was quickly derailed with a 7-6 predistrict loss to Detroit King, which went on to defeat Muskegon in the state title game.
The heartbreaking loss to King fueled River Rouge’s fire for this season’s historical run.
“You can look at moments like this and say this is the best you can give to a kid, give him an opportunity to be a champion and nobody can take that away from him,” a jubilant Parker said following Saturday’s triumph.
“River Rouge basketball is the tradition, it’s the brand, it’s everything that has made our heart beat for years. But now you’ve got a football state championship that you start to build on and say, hey, now the Little League guys get something to look up to and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that too.’
“Twenty years from now all of these guys will be able to tell a story to a younger guy that’s playing football here and say, ‘Hey, that’s something that you can earn because we did it in 2019.’”
The River Rouge players will indeed have great stories to tell, including kicker Avery Burch, who stayed perfect by going 9-for-9 on field goals with a critical 32-yarder with 10:05 left in the game that opened a 24-7 lead, making it a three-score game.
Burch’s field goal came after 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior cornerback Darieon Jones made his third sack of the game, spoiling a trick play when he hauled down Japrie Henderson, who was trying to find Martinez on a fourth-and-10 play at the River Rouge 40 with 1:50 left in the third.
“Coach (Parker) said they’re down bad so they are going to do whatever it takes to get themselves out of that ditch, so he said to watch for the hitch-and-go, watch for everything, so I stayed outside containment and did my job,” said Jones, who finished with a game-high 14 tackles, 10 solos, including three sacks.
So, while River Rouge is loaded with Division 1 players – including Toledo-bound linebacker Deshawn Walker, Eastern Michigan-bound cornerback Xavier Smith and safety Josh Wiley, who has offers from West Virginia and multiple MAC schools – it was Jones who made a name for himself on the big stage.
“Darieon Jones, smaller guy, he was a special teams guy at the beginning of the year, didn’t get much playing time, so he just had to continue to work and learn,” said Parker, who started Jones for the first time in Week 8, a 16-3 win over Detroit Catholic Central.
Parker said Burch never played football until he got to River Rouge.
“He’s an African-American kicker, which is very different, so we’re proud of the way that he went about his business to continue to get better,” said Parker. “He’s our leading points scorer.”
Burch accounted for 105 points this season, converting on 78-of-80 PATs while making all of his nine field-goal attempts.
Muskegon has now been runnerup six times in seven title game appearances this decade.
Detroit King coach Tyrone Spencer was college teammates with Davison coach Jake Weingartz while at Wayne State back in 2005 and 2006.
“He played slot receiver and I played corner, so we used to go against each other in practice,” Spencer said. “We were both All-GLIAC that year, ’06. It was our first winning season in a long time, that’s when the tide started to change. It was Joique Bell’s redshirt freshman year when he rushed for 2,000 yards.”
Spencer guided King in the Division 2 state championship game against Muskegon Mona Shores Friday, suffering a 35-26 loss despite a 198-yard performance from Maryland-bound running back Peny Boone, who finished the five-game postseason run with 809 yards (72 carries) and 13 TDs.
It was the first time since 1993 that neither team punted as Mona Shores converted 3-of-4 fourth downs and King was 0-for-1 on fourth down while turning the ball over on two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Weingartz led Davison to its first state championship with a 35-25 victory over Brighton in the Division 1 game Saturday.
Davison jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and increased the advantage to 28-3 early in the second half behind the strong performance of junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan.
Haunted by replay
This is the first year of video replay by the MHSAA and Almont coach James Leusby had to wish the organization could have held out one more year.
Almont looked well on its way to an unbeaten season and Division 5 state championship with a 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter in its title game against Lansing Catholic until suffering a nightmare finish.
Lansing Catholic pulled within 17-10 on Jonah Richards’ 24-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the third and then Almont started turning the ball over, starting with Lansing Catholic linebacker Sam Edwards’ interception, which led to the tying TD.
Then, Edwards forced a fumble on Almont’s next drive. Officials originally called the Almont player down but the call was overturned in the replay booth.
Lansing Catholic didn’t score off the fumble, but later scored on Vince Salquist’s 7-yard TD reception from Zach Gillespie to pull even at 17.
Lansing Catholic then took a 24-17 lead on Gillespie’s 23-yard TD pass to Mitch Raphael with 3:41 left. Field officials said Raphael caught the ball while out of bounds, but replay officials said he had one foot down and overturned the call.
Sure, the overturned calls aided Lansing Catholic’s comeback, but Almont’s seven turnovers were even more damaging.
Building a dynasty
Grand Rapids Catholic Central – which defeated River Rouge in the season opener – won its third state championship in the last four years with a lopsided 44-0 victory over Detroit Country Day in Division 4.
Sophomore quarterback Joey Silveri connected on 15-of-22 passes for 236 yards and four TDs, also rushing for 140 yards and two TDs. Jace Williams, a 6-4 junior, had three TD receptions to match a state title game record.
Silveri is already looking forward to 2020.
“We should be a great team again, but we just have to put in the work this offseason and stay motivated,” Silveri said.
“We all work together all through the summer, so we’re all pretty close and we trust him,” said Williams of Silveri.
While Catholic Central scored seven TDs, Country Day blocked five PATs. Country Day 6-7, 270-pound three-star junior Caleb Tiernan, who has offers from Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, blocked three of them.