DETROIT – Belleville’s football team found Ford Field after a series of near-misses in recent seasons. The Tigers found it much to their liking, too.
Belleville put its speed, athleticism and depth of talent on full display in a 55-33 runaway victory over Rochester Adams in the MHSAA Division 1 title game Saturday. The fast track and climate-controlled environment were ideal for the Tigers in their first-ever Finals appearance.
Freshman quarterback Bryce Underwood passed for 284 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions, three of the scores to senior Jeremiah Caldwell as the Tigers (13-1) came within a point of tying a record for most scored in a Finals game.
“You get a bunch of athletes on a fast track and without the elements, you know, it was going to be some opportunities for Bryce …,” said Belleville coach Jermain Crowell, the former Detroit Cass Tech assistant, who is now 72-10 in seven years with the Tigers program.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Underwood, who is only 14 years old, finished 12-of-21 passing. He capped Belleville’s scoring with a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter when he delivered a forceful stiff-arm in the backfield to a would-be tackler.
The 6-3, 175-pound Caldwell was on the receiving end of only four passes, but the playmaker converted them into a whopping 204 yards. Underwood connected with the lanky, speedy senior on scoring strikes of 56, 64 and 72 yards, all in the first half, as Belleville entered the locker room with a 21-20 edge.
“I would say I wasn’t that nervous, I just knew that I had to come out and execute our plan and finish the football game,” Underwood said.
Belleville took control in the third quarter, when the Tigers converted two Adams turnovers into touchdowns – one on a blocked punt and the other on a fumble recovery. They led 35-20 entering the fourth quarter, and that margin never dipped below 14 points the rest of the way.
Six different players scored TDs for Belleville, illustrating Crowell’s point in the postgame press conference that it was a team effort. The Tigers had no turnovers.
“It was the team. I mean, to be honest with you, it was the team,” said Crowell, whose squads lost semifinal heartbreakers to eventual 2020 state champ West Bloomfield (35-34 in double-overtime) and Brighton in 2019 (22-19). The Tigers also lost in the 2018 semifinals to eventual state champ Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.
“All the other years, it was always about this individual guy, that individual guy, that individual guy, and it’s not high school football. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be that way.”
Even though Belleville’s defense surrendered 33 points, the Tigers made enough plays on that side of the ball and they did it with several players contributing.
Seniors Cameron Dyson and JaShawn Greene led Belleville’s defense with eight tackles apiece. Greene also had a forced fumble and sack, while Caldwell picked off a pass.
As much as Crowell stressed “team,” it was hard to ignore the individual talents of Underwood and Caldwell.
“I feel like it’s amazing because he’s so young,” Caldwell said about Underwood. “Once he gets to my age as a senior, it’s going to be, like, ‘Wow!’ Like, he’s doing this as a freshman now, so when he becomes a senior, it’s going to be mind-boggling.”
Said Adams coach Tony Patritto about Underwood: “His resume was pretty strong before he even got to Belleville. He can really sling it and, you know, his receivers made some big plays and a lot of yards after the catch. A lot of that’s on us.”
Adams (13-1), which went unscathed through the rugged Oakland Activities Association as well as a challenging playoff road, made some plays on Saturday, too.
Senior QB Parker Picot completed 8 of 21 passes for three TDs, four of his completions going to 6-6, 215-pound sophomore Brady Prieskorn for 117 yards and two scores.
Like Underwood, Picot was recognized at a young age for his athletic talents. He committed to University of Alabama for baseball as a freshman, but he also poured everything he had into this football season.
“Well, when it’s football season, it’s football season and this year we definitely had something special,” Picot said. “All of us players were all, you know, some of the best friends. At the start, every day (of) summer workouts, we knew we had something special and it was going to be really fun this year and I think we really held onto (it).”
Adams was seeking its first state title since 2003, which was Patritto’s first season at the helm, when the Highlanders captured the Division 2 championship.
On Saturday, it was Belleville’s time.
“I mean, it means a lot, especially to the community of Belleville,” said Caldwell, whose receiving TDs and receiving yards ties him for second in both categories in Finals history.
“It’s a new Belleville this year, so everything that happened in the past years was not happening this year. We all came together and made a change as a whole.”
PHOTOS (Top) Belleville’s Jeremiah Caldwell (2) prepares to make his move as Rochester Adams’ Marco Dicresce (4) looks to make a stop. (Middle) The Tigers’ Davieon Pitchford (20) attempts to run past Adams’ Parker Picot (11). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
ADDISON – Addison’s football team was dealt multiple blows this past offseason, enough to bring many teams to their knees.
After going 5-5 last fall with a young team, the Panthers were expecting big things in 2023. But tragedy struck twice. Junior Chad Miller, a fullback and safety, died in July. Starting linebacker Jay Griewahn, also a junior, was diagnosed with leukemia and began chemotherapy that same month.
Add in the transfer of a starting offensive lineman, and losing three expected contributors from a team of fewer than 30 players looked difficult to overcome.
Yet, through five games, Addison is undefeated and ranks at the top of the MHSAA playoff points list in Division 8. The Panthers have turned to what their coaches have been teaching them for years – control only what you can control.
“I felt strongly that we would embrace the challenge and not make excuses, because we just don’t allow it,” said Addison head coach Joshua Lindeman.
“We can’t control everything, right? It’s what we instill in kids every single day. The football team is an extension of the classroom. Anything you do through education and educational athletics is preparing you to become a man. That is really what we build our entire program around. We talk about it daily.”
Lindeman is in his 10th season as the Addison head coach and recently passed the 50-win mark. He said it took a couple of years to build the current culture at the school in southwest Lenawee County, but seasons like this one – where the team comes together to overcome adversity – shows it is working.
“There are going to be events in your life that are going to happen that you can’t control,” he said. “Everybody knows this, whether you are a faith-driven person or not. There are events in our lives that are out of our control. We can’t waste energy or time and effort on those things.
“The only thing we can focus on is our response to those events.”
Addison also has remained true to its culture when it comes to toughness on the football field, too. Lindeman employs a full house T formation, an offense he learned while playing at nearby Hudson. In most games, as many as four backs carry the ball at least eight times apiece. Spencer Brown had 19 carries in Friday’s win over Jonesville, by far the most of any Addison back in a single game this season.
“That doesn’t change,” Lindeman said of the offense. “We don’t get envious about who carries the ball. We teach that to our backs. If you ask anybody about our program, about who gets taken care of in our program … they’ll tell you the linemen.
“Football is so many times glorified by the guy carrying the ball or the guy throwing the ball,” Lindeman added. “I don’t care who has the ball. I care about the seven guys up front. That’s where football is won or lost, no matter what anybody says.”
Addison has been an offensive juggernaut, scoring 258 points over five games. That includes wins of 50-14, 60-27, 58-14, 50-28 and 38-14, making the Panthers one of the highest-scoring teams in the state. They have 10 pass completions all season.
Brown is a perfect example of a player who has embraced the Addison culture. Coming in as a freshman, Brown shied away from contact. Once he hit the weight room and grew into his body, he became a bruising runner who fights for tough yards inside but has the speed to break long runs.
“When I came in as a freshman, I was tall and skinny,” Brown said. “I didn’t want anything to do with contact or someone touching me. As a sophomore, I started lifting, and last year things clicked.”
He said the team has remained close through the difficult offseason.
“It was hard losing a couple of guys, but you just have to look at the next guy up and lock in and do your job,” Brown said. “It’s talked about. It would be great to have those guys with us, but you just have to tell the guy there now to fill your spot and play your role.”
Brown is one of four captains with fellow seniors Jaxen Sword and Gabe Pepper, plus junior Joe Clark.
“Our captains say the right thing,” Lindeman said. “All four of them have done a really good job.”
This week Addison hosts Homer on Thursday in hopes of improving to 6-0.
“The mindset is to keep working hard in practice,” Brown said. “We are trying to go undefeated here.”
The Panthers know some difficult games lie ahead. No matter what happens, Lindeman will continue to do things like shake hands with every player after every practice and game and tell his players he loves them.
“All of that stuff creates the word culture that everybody speaks about,” Lindeman said. “It’s an identity. It’s not unnormal to see our football players in the hallway and they tell me they love me, and I say I love you back.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Addison’s Spencer Brown (22) attempts to elude a Detroit Voyageur defender during a 50-14 Week 1 win. (Middle) Panthers coach Joshua Lindeman greets his players before a game. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)