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Prep notebook: River Rouge eager to prove title runs are no fluke

David Goricki
The Detroit News

River Rouge will be playing with a chip on its shoulder when it faces DeWitt in the Division 3 championship game Saturday night at Ford Field.

It will be River Rouge’s third state championship game appearance in the last six years and veteran coach Corey Parker feels his program isn’t getting the respect it deserves.

And, Parker’s right.

River Rouge head coach Corey Parker celebrates with his team after the 33-30 win against Detroit King at Detroit King in Detroit, Mich on Jan. 9, 2021.

After all, River Rouge is unranked by The News despite losing just one game this season and that was a 21-6 loss back in late September to Michigan-bound receiver Andrel Anthony and No. 13 East Lansing.

Parker wasn’t happy when River Rouge (9-1) had to play on the road at Chelsea this past Saturday in a state semifinal since semifinal games in past years were played on neutral sites.

In fact, River Rouge defeated Chelsea on a neutral site field last year in a semifinal, 14-7 before upsetting Muskegon and its star quarterback Cameron Martinez (Ohio State) 30-7 in the state title game at Ford Field.

River Rouge also advanced to Ford Field in 2015 when it competed in Division 5, losing the state title game to Grand Rapids West Catholic in a shootout, 40-34.

Parker guided River Rouge to a 30-22 win on the road at No. 20 Chelsea Saturday to earn the right to play No. 10 DeWitt.

“DeWitt’s always been around the semifinals or the state championship," Parker said. "They always have good players, great scheme, great coaches and, in this particular year, I would say one of their top three players is related to an MHSAA executive (Executive Director Mark Uyl) and the (Grant) Uyl kid plays middle linebacker and they have a great quarterback (Tyler Holtz), who is a dual-threat guy so they’ll go on the field and bring a level of excitement and tenacity.

"They play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, so it should be a physical game.”

DeWitt is definitely feeling overlooked since Muskegon stole the spotlight in 2019 (28-21 semifinal loss) and 2017 (49-0 regional final loss), along with a semifinal loss to Detroit King (34-21) in 2018.

DeWitt tossed aside past postseason shortcomings to defeat No. 8 Muskegon in Saturday’s semifinal, 14-0.

Parker asked reporters after River Rouge's 30-22 win over Chelsea Saturday if they picked his school to win. When one journalist said no, the coach asked why. The reporter said he felt Chelsea was a better team.

"I said, ‘Well, in your opinion maybe they were,'" Parker recalled. "'However with us being the defending state champs what have we done not to qualify ourselves as a legitimate program that’s going to be around this time of the year, every year?’

“So, now, winning that game (30-22 over Chelsea, Saturday), the way we won it with the level of physicality we won it and seeing that we’ve been to the state championship game three times in the last 10 years (2015, ’19, ’20), it means everything to see the level of growth in our program, the way our players handle big games."

River Rouge played physical against Chelsea, pounding the ball on the ground with quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski (Western Michigan) rushing for 220 yards (33 carries) and three touchdowns to hand Chelsea its first loss.

And, to think in Parker’s early years at River Rouge, the school had an enrollment of 495 in 2012 and it has doubled (993) since then.

Parker doesn’t back down from scheduling quality opponents. He's set up games against defending Division 2 state champion Muskegon Mona Shores and Division 4 defending state champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central to open the season. Of course, the games were canceled when the season was pushed back due to the pandemic.

COVID KOs Everest

While River Rouge will be making its third trip to Ford Field in the last six years, COVID was the only thing that got in the way of Clarkston Everest Collegiate’s unbeaten season and a chance to play in the Division 8 title game.

Clarkston Everest was 10-0, showing its dominance by outscoring its opponents by a 303-43 margin. That run included a 35-0 win over Riverview Gabriel Richard in the Catholic League final Oct. 23 before winning four postseason games by a 146-13 margin, which featured another 35-0 blanking of Petersburg-Summerfield in a regional final Jan. 8.

Mike Pruchnicki has done an outstanding job since building the program from the ground floor in 2013, which has grown to 27 players from 15 in past years.

“We were supposed to play, unfortunately, we had to forfeit when we had a number of kids test positive for coronavirus,” said Pruchnicki of Clarkston Everest having to forfeit to Centreville. “It would have been our first appearance in the state semifinals so it’s very tough. We have a really great group of seniors and they won’t have another chance, so my heart goes out for them.

"We had a very competitive group and kids were saying, ‘Coach, I know I can play, I just have a small cold,’ and I told them that I knew, but that we had to follow the rules.

“I think we had a really good chance to win it, so I think our kids are state champions to be honest with you. It was awesome to play in the regionals (after eight-week layoff), just to give those kids one last chance so we were excited to get that one in for sure, it was great for our seniors. We beat Petersburg-Summerfield 35-0, established the running game and the defense dominated, gave up a total of 40 yards."

Quarterback Giovanni Mastromatteo, lineman John Suran and linebacker Dom Cross were among the members of the senior class.

Country Day's drought

Detroit Country Day knows the way to Ford Field, it just wants to take care of business this time around to take the ultimate trophy back home.

Coach Dan MacLean guided Country Day to the Division 5 championship in 1999 at the Pontiac Silverdome, but is 0-5 at Ford Field in Division 4 title games, bringing home the runner-up trophy in 2007, ’08, '12, ’16 and last year.

Country Day, which had players test positive in multiple weeks this season with student-athletes in school, defeated Williamston 12-0 Saturday in a Division 4 semifinal while Cadillac upset Edwardsburg, 28-26 in the other semifinal to set up a 7:30 p.m. showdown Friday night at Ford Field.

Country Day has the luxury of having an indoor facility on campus to prepare for playing at Ford Field.

“It’s great, but we have to improve our record at Ford Field,” MacLean said. “We have to go in and finish the deal because we haven’t been real successful at Ford Field. Our defense is playing well, our middle backer Joe Miller played very well, so we did what we needed to do, you know to survive and advance, but we have to get more offense (in state title game).”

West Bloomfield sophomore Blake Nelson, left, junior Zaevion Marshall (18) and sophomore Trent Allison, right, embrace after defeating Belleville in double overtime, 35-34.

'Instant classic'

The West Bloomfield-Belleville Division 1 semifinal was an instant classic with No. 4 West Bloomfield defeating No. 1 Belleville 35-34 in double overtime at Belleville.

West Bloomfield’s defense came up big with a stop on a two-point attempt for the difference, putting pressure on Belleville quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid to force an incompletion.

The victory was sweet for West Bloomfield, especially since it came up short against Belleville in a regional final the previous two seasons.

Dhue-Reid entered the game owning the state record for career touchdown passes (135), including 40 this season against just one interception.

West Bloomfield’s defense, including tackle Jaden Green and end Niles King, linebackers Jordan Hoskins and Travis Reece and cornerback Dillon Tatum, helped limit Dhue-Reid and Belleville — which averaged 50 points — to 21 points in regulation with Green getting a hand on a 38-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime.

Then, King put pressure on Dhue-Reid during the two-point try.

“Instant classic,” said West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy, who is proud that his program is making a return to Ford Field where it lost to Clarkston, 3-2 in the 2017 Division 1 state final.

When asked how many times he called timeout to ice the kicker before the 38-yard field goal, Bellamy replied: “Three times. You can’t go home with them. I was shocked that they didn’t go for it (fourth-and-short) and try to get a first down and spike it and take a shot in the end zone. They would have had time to do that.”

And, on Belleville’s two-point try?

“They released Jamari (four-star linebacker Buddin) out of the backfield earlier in the game and it worked for a 15-yard gain, so we felt like they’d go back to it,” Bellamy said. “We put some pressure on him (Dhue-Reid) and forced an incompletion.”

Michigan-bound running back Donovan Edwards rushed for 155 yards and three TDs and will be playing his final game for West Bloomfield Saturday afternoon at Ford Field in the state final against defending Division 1 state champion and No. 5 Davison.

dgoricki@detroitnews.com

State finals

All games at Ford Field

Friday

Division 8: Centreville (10-0) vs Ubly (9-2) 10 a.m.

Division 2: Muskegon Mona Shores (11-0) vs Warren DeLaSalle (7-4), 1

Division 6: Montague (11-0 vs Clinton (10-1), 4:30

Division 4: Cadillac (8-2) vs Detroit Country Day (8-2). 7:30

Saturday

Division 7: New Lothrop (10-0) vs Traverse City St. Francis (9-2), 10 a.m.

Division 1: Davison (11-0) vs West Bloomfield (10-1), 1

Division 5: Grand Rapids CC (10-0) vs Frankenmuth (11-0), 4:30

Division 3: DeWitt (11-0) vs River Rouge (9-1), 7:30