By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Those who watched the MHSAA Football Finals in person, online or on TV on Fox Sports Detroit probably didn’t leave their seats much over Thanksgiving weekend.
Five of eight 11-player Finals were decided by seven points or fewer. Two more were still in question into the fourth quarter. And if you missed the ends of the Division 2 or Division 5 games, get to MHSAA.tv the next time you have a few hours to spare.
Second Half covered all nine championship games including the 8-player Final on Nov. 20, with quick recaps and links to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2015 Finals.
Finals in Review
Division 1: Romeo 41, Detroit Cass Tech 27
Romeo earned its first championship in its first trip to the MHSAA Finals, completing a playoff run that included victories over recent winners Cass Tech, Detroit Catholic Central and Clarkston. Despite a heroic performance by Technicians back-up quarterback Aaron Jackson, the Bulldogs marched for six touchdowns to remain a few steps ahead throughout. Click to read more.
Division 2: Detroit Martin Luther King 40, Lowell 38
For the second time in MHSAA Football Finals history, a game was decided on the final play of regulation – and in this case King’s final-second touchdown earned national buzz. Quarterback Armani Posey put up a record-setting passing performance, capped by a 40-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Corley on the final play that gave the Crusaders their second title. Click to read more.
Division 3: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 29, Chelsea 12
The Eaglets won their second straight Division 3 title, this time over first-time finalist Chelsea. St. Mary’s had two runners each gain more than 100 yards and quarterback Brendan Tabone hooked up with receiver K.J. Hamler for a pair of highlight-reel scoring plays. Click to read more.
Division 4: Zeeland West 40, Flint Powers Catholic 14
The Dux won their fourth MHSAA title over the last decade and second in three seasons with the same rushing attack that has brought them great success throughout the run. West ran for 318 yards and scored four of the game’s first five touchdowns in what would be Powers coach Bob Buckel’s final game (he resigned Monday). Click to read more.
Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 40, River Rouge 34
Once of the most offense-driven Finals in MHSAA football history ended with West Catholic winning its third straight championship – but not without repeated comeback attempts by River Rouge and near record-setting quarterback Antoine Burgess. The Falcons defeated three top-10 and two honorable mention teams on the way to the title, while River Rouge was playing in its first football championship game. Click to read more.
Division 6: Ithaca 27, Clinton 20
The Yellowjackets finished their fifth perfect season over the last six and earned another championship after falling in last season’s Final to break a 69-game winning streak. Ithaca won this time against an undefeated Clinton team that also had fallen to the Yellowjackets in the 2013 championship game. Ithaca featured 17 seniors, many of whom had played prominent roles in 2014 as well. Click to read more.
Division 7: Ishpeming 22, Pewamo-Westphalia 16
Ishpeming played in its fourth straight Final and won its third title in that time, coming back from last season’s loss led by returning quarterback Ozzy Corp. The 6-foot-5 senior scored three touchdowns, and the Hematites held MHSAA single-season rushing record-holder Jared Smith to a still-impressive 149 yards and a score. Click to read more.
Division 8: Muskegon Catholic Central 7, Waterford Our Lady 0
These small-school powers played to a near stalemate to kick off the weekend, with MCC’s touchdown with 10:21 to play the difference in earning the Crusaders their third straight MHSAA championship. MCC’s defense also came up with the first shutout against Our Lady since 2011, slowing down one of the state’s most accomplished passing attacks this fall. Click to read more.
8-Player: Powers North Central 58, Battle Creek St. Philip 33
Undefeated St. Philip played North Central closer than any opponent this season, but the Jets took over during the second quarter on the way to their first MHSAA title in this sport and a 13-0 finish. Junior running back Bobby Kleiman scored six times – five rushing and one receiving – and another junior, quarterback Jason Whitens, capped a season that saw him throw 45 touchdown passes without an interception. Click to read more.
A number of team and individual entries have been added to the MHSAA Football Finals record book, found by clicking here. A breakdown:
Detroit King’s Armani Posey set the MHSAA Finals record with 383 yards passing, and River Rouge’s Antoine Burgess ended up second after also breaking the previous record with 354 yards. Posey made the completions list with 19 in 27 attempts and tied the passing touchdowns record with five. Burgess missed setting the total offense yards record by only two, tallying 424 with 70 rushing as well, and Posey’s 403 total yards ranks fifth on that list.
Two more quarterbacks also made record lists. Cass Tech’s Aaron Jackson also completed 19 passes in 27 attempts. Ithaca’s Jake Smith made the total yardage list with 126 rushing and 180 passing for 306 total.
River Rouge receiver Aaron Vinson tied for ninth for receiving yardage, gaining 162 on four receptions.
Lowell kicker George Gonzales joined a host of others by making all five of his extra-point attempts.
River Rouge and Grand Rapids West Catholic combined for 929 total yards, the second-most by two teams combined in an MHSAA Final, and Ishpeming and Zeeland West became two of 22 teams that didn’t punt in a championship game.
North Central’s Bobby Kleiman became the first entry in 8-player for rushing yards (205) and touchdowns (five), and his 337 total yards rank fourth. Teammate Jason Whitens’ 294 total yards were the fifth-most in 8-player Finals history. Kleiman also became the first entry for total touchdowns in a game (six) and easily set the record for points scored with 46. North Central and Battle Creek St. Philip combined for a record 952 total yards.
Muskegon Catholic Central moved up to third with 14 MHSAA Finals appearances, only two fewer than record holders Farmington Hills Harrison and Detroit Catholic Central. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s moved up into a tie for fourth on that list with 13 appearances. MCC also moved into a tie for third with 11 titles, behind Harrison’s 13 and Detroit St. Martin dePorres’ 12.
Stories behind the scores
The Play: Corley’s touchdown will be talked about for years to come – and not just by people who saw it live. An MHSAA video shot on Instagram and then posted on Facebook has reached 179,500 fans and been viewed more than 75,000 times, and the Fox Sports Detroit clip can be watched by clicking here. Corley’s grab gave King its only lead of the game.
Filling the trophy case: Six of eight winners this weekend have made quite a home at Ford Field. Grand Rapids West Catholic and Muskegon Catholic Central both won their third straight championships and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s was a repeat winner. Ithaca won its fifth title in six seasons, Ishpeming its third in four years and Zeeland West its second over the last three.
Romeo’s run: Save for a three-point loss to Utica Eisenhower in Week 9, Romeo’s run to its first title was perfect – and regardless, incredibly difficult. First, the Bulldogs downed two-time reigning champion Clarkston (final record 7-3) in the Pre-District, then handed Lapeer (10-1) its only loss. Next was Detroit Catholic Central (9-3), the Division 1 runner-up from 2011-13, followed by undefeated Grand Ledge (12-1). Detroit Cass Tech (11-3) had lost only to King, twice, and was the champion in 2011 and 2012.
Bringing Mitchell to Detroit: Although St. Ignace’s run ended one win shy of reaching Ford Field, teammate Mitchell Snyder’s memory was everywhere during the Division 8 Final. The Saints, who lost to Muskegon Catholic Central in a Semifinal, had worn stickers on their helmets with the name and number of Snyder, who died in a car crash in October. MCC and Waterford Our Lady both wore the helmet sticks during their game at Ford Field, carrying Snyder’s memory to the final game of the season.
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top middle) River Rouge gets revved up in the Ford Field tunnel before entering the field. (Middle) Detroit King poses for a team photo while celebrating its championship. (Below) Powers North Central hoists its first football title trophy. (For more photos and video, click for the MHSAA Instagram feed.)
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)