DETROIT – As much as it hurts Detroit Martin Luther King to lose to Detroit Cass Tech, falling twice to its rival this fall helped the Crusaders win the school’s third MHSAA football championship and second consecutive Friday.
King’s defense was outstanding, as the Crusaders held Walled Lake Western (12-2) to 124 yards in defeating the Warriors 18-0 in the Division 2 Final at Ford Field.
King (12-2) lost to Cass Tech, 31-18, during the regular season and then again in the Detroit Public School League title game at Ford Field, 41-20. King trailed 17-0 at halftime in the first game and 21-0 in the second meeting, and never seriously threatened Cass Tech in either.
First-year head coach Tyrone Spencer was the defensive coordinator before taking over for Dale Harvel, who died on July 22 of a heart attack. Harvel was the defensive coordinator in 2007 under coach Jim Reynolds when King won its first MHSAA title against Midland, 47-21.
“The (players) overcame a lot,” Spencer said. “They overcame adversity. But it’s also how you handle success. That’s why I thought those two losses helped. And I said then that I thought we would peak at the end.
“We think about (Harvel) all of the time. We thought about him yesterday, and we thought about him today. It meant a lot for us to win this. I know he’d be proud.”
King’s dominance on defense not only stuffed Western and an offense that averaged 42.5 points over the first four playoff games, but the unit had four interceptions, two of which went for touchdowns.
King led 6-0 at halftime, then gained just one yard in the third quarter and increased its lead to 12-0.
That’s what an opportunistic defense can provide.
Western began the second half well when quarterback Johnny Tracy completed a 21-yard pass to Justin Thomas to midfield. Jalen Bell then sacked Tracy for a 9-yard loss, and then Tracy attempted a sideline pass that was tipped just beyond the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Jesse Scarber at the King 44. Scarber, a first-year starter, raced down the left sideline to complete a 56-yard scoring play, and King led 12-0 with 10:37 left in the third quarter.
“King was very physical up front,” Tracy said. “They put on some pressure, and they were coming hard.”
For Scarber, it was his second interception of the game and fifth of the season – but this one was special.
“Once I saw it tipped, I just got it and ran for the end zone,” he said.
The defensive line, led by sophomores Tyrece Woods and Bell, have been stubborn against the run all season. It’s the secondary that’s been prone to give up a big play here and there, and Spencer addressed that after the second Cass Tech loss and again this week.
“We put a lot of pressure on our defensive backs,” Spencer said. “We’ve been big on the run, and I told (the defensive backs) you’ve got to step up.”
Using two passers, Western completed 8 of 23 throws for 70 yards with three interceptions. The Warriors were sacked four times.
King was held to 156 yards, but the offense had its moments.
The game was scoreless late in the first half when King took over on the Western 26 after a short punt. It took the Crusaders five plays to score as quarterback Dequan Finn completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ambry Thomas with 12 seconds left before the break. Matt Alati blocked the kick conversion attempt, and King led 6-0 at halftime.
Jaylen Wilson led King with 57 yards rushing on nine carries and Finn, a sophomore in his first season as a starter, was 7 of 15 for 68 yards passing.
There was one play, with King nursing that 12-0 lead, when Finn made a play that sometimes can be overlooked. King faced a 2nd-and-6 from its 23 when Finn completed a 31-yard pass to Christian Chatman to get the Crusaders out of a hole. The play came with 6:33 left, and King was able to milk another two minutes off the clock.
“It was a double post,” Finn said. “I saw the corner playing out and we talked about it on the sideline before the play. We all noticed it.
“It’s all about the team. My line did a great job of blocking.”
Jay-Veyon Morton completed the scoring when he returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown with 2:53 left.
“King played great defense throughout the playoffs,” Western coach Mike Zdebski said. King’s defense allowed 35 points in the five playoff games. “They’re big up front. Cass must be a really good team.”
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit King’s Jay-Veyon Morton (22) snags one of his two interceptions as Walled Lake Western’s Cody White works to bring him down. (Middle) King’s Ambry Thomas stretches toward the goal line while two Western defenders, including Jack Dodge (11), attempt to slow him.
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)