D3 football final: Dual-threat QB Holtz springs DeWitt to championship

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — DeWitt’s players were on a mission to earn that first state championship for longtime head coach Rob Zimmerman and Saturday night they got the job done, defeating defending champion River Rouge 40-30 in the Division 3 title game at Ford Field.

“This is for Coach Zim, this is his first one and he definitely should have more, so he definitely deserves it since he’s one of the greatest coaches ever and for us to finally be the team that got him over that hump feels amazing,” 6-foot-5 junior receiver/defensive back Tommy McIntosh said of Zimmerman, who now has a 222-45 record …and that state championship in his 22 years leading DeWitt’s program.

DeWitt quarterback Tyler Holtz, front, rushes for yardage as he is chased by River Rouge defenders, left, Markel Guilford, James Long, and Leamon Jones in the second quarter of a Division 3 football final held at Ford Field in Detroit, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021.

“Coach Zim talks about it all the time on how we have tremendous leadership, tremendous players and tremendous coaching and we talked about it before the game how we wanted to be the team that was different,” said DeWitt senior linebacker Grant Uyl who had 10 tackles, matching game-high honors with Cooper Brumfield and Nicholas Flegler.

Yes, Zimmerman felt this team was a special one and his players rewarded him with the championship trophy.

“We’re very athletic, but I think our best players are also our hardest workers and our best leaders and whenever you have that combination, when you have your best kids are also setting the example with everything and providing leadership you have a great opportunity to be a really good team,” Zimmerman said.

Junior Tyler Holtz played the part of one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state, setting the tempo in the opening half when he led DeWitt to a 21-8 lead, hitting on 8-of-11 passes for 106 yards and three TDs while rushing for 84 yards on four carries.

BOX SCORE: DeWitt 40, River Rouge 30

DeWitt — 12-0 and ranked No. 10 in The News Super 20 poll — opened the scoring with Holtz’s 15-yard jump pass over the top to Blake Beachnau, who got behind the secondary with 5:55 left in the first quarter.

River Rouge (9-2) came back to take an 8-7 lead when Western Michigan-bound quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski — the hero in last year’s state title game — found Jalen Holly with a short pass and Holly slipped away from a defender at the DeWitt 43 and sprinted down the left sideline for a 52-yard TD with 9:48 left in the half.

Hrabowski, who directed the 11-play, 94-yard drive and picked up one first down on a third-down toss to Tayshaun Massey and moved the chains on another third down run, found Nicholas Marsh for the two-point conversion.

Holtz made sure DeWitt would quickly answer River Rouge’s TD with one of its own when he broke loose for a 49-yard run to the River Rouge 21, then on third and goal from the 8 rolled left and found Andrew Debri for a TD pass for a 14-8 lead with 7:27 left in the second.

Holtz wasn’t done there. Instead, he directed a 62-yard drive by connecting on 3-of-4 passes with two of them going to Flegler, including a 35-yard toss down the right sideline where Flegler got behind Leamon Jones and made a great catch for a 21-8 lead with 1:48 left in the half.

“He’s able to throw the ball on the run and obviously that creates threats to defenses like no other, throwing the ball on the run is truly a dual-threat guy,” said River Rouge coach Corey Parker on Holtz. “He didn’t run the ball out on the perimeter, he ran the ball on the interior and he was also able to throw the ball and run and that’s difficult to defend.”

Hrabowski, who rushed for 175 yards and three TDs in last year’s 30-7 state title game upset win over Muskegon, looked ready to lead River Rouge to a comeback when he found David Martin down the right sideline for a 51-yard pass to the DeWitt 39 late in the half, but the threat was quickly wiped out by consecutive holding penalties.

River Rouge’s first-half TD was the first points scored upon DeWitt in the postseason and the lone points allowed since a 43-6 win over Stevensville-Lakeshore on Oct. 23 in the regular season finale.

DeWitt never allowed Hrabowski to get into rhythm and gave him little room to operate. He was 5-of-12 passing in the first half, missing his receivers badly on some throws and having several drops on others. He rushed for 38 first-half yards on 11 carries with his longest run of 10 yards.

“He’s got a set of good receivers running routes and trying to make sure that they are open for him and he’s putting the ball in certain places, we just weren’t able to complete them,” Parker said of Hrabowski. “We see him complete those balls at practices and in other games, just today wasn’t our day early on. You just can’t play an opponent like that and start off slow.”

Uyl had six tackles in the opening half and continued to make stops during River Rouge’s opening drive of the second half.

After a defensive stop, it was Holtz’s turn and he had a short field to work with after an 11-yard punt return by McIntosh to the River Rouge 49.

Holtz picked up 4 yards to the River Rouge 25 on a fourth-and-2 play, then rolled right and threw across the field to McIntosh, who got behind a defender, for a 25-yard TD pass and a 27-8 lead with 5:14 left in the third.

Hrabowski showed why WMU coach Tim Lester showed so much interest in him when he found Marsh down the left sideline for a 50-yard pass to the DeWitt 6, setting up Hrabowski’s 4-yard TD run to cut the deficit to 27-14 with 3:33 left in the third.

DeWitt increased the lead to 33-14 on the final play of the third quarter on another big play, this one coming on Bryce Debri’s 37-yard TD run.

DeWitt had 336 yards of offense through three quarters with Holtz connecting on 11-of-15 for 151 yards passing and four TDs, also rushing for 93 yards on eight carries, but Hrabowski made sure River Rouge wouldn’t go away.

Hrabowski broke loose for his longest run of 29 yards to the DeWitt 17, then found Marsh who won a 50-50 battle in the end zone by high-pointing the ball for a 12-yard TD reception with 10:43 left, also grabbing a two-point conversion toss from Hrabowski to pull within 33-22.

Again Holtz would make a big play to answer the score, finding McIntosh for a 26-yard gain to the River Rouge 39, then scoring his first TD run on a 2-yard quarterback keeper for a 40-22 cushion with 4:10 left.

Hrabowski would close the scoring with a 3-yard TD run, followed by a two-point conversion with 1:27 remaining.

Holtz finished with 288 yards of total offense and five TDs, completing 12-of-16 for 177 yards and four TDs while rushing for 111 yards (13 carries) and a TD.

Hrabowski was 11-of-21 for 227 yards and two TDs, also rushing for 94 yards (20 carries) and two TDs.