By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Teams that reach the MHSAA Football Finals have been running around in helmets and pads for just short of four months, starting when we’re keeping an eye out for high temperatures and finishing as we watch the snow fall.
Plenty of notable moments fill those four months. A final game at the Superior Dome or Ford Field becomes a memory to cap them all – and these last two weekends again provided an unforgettable ending to those who took the field, the communities that supported them, and the rest of us who watched and enjoyed the best of 2019.
Second Half covered all 10 championship games last weekend at Ford Field and two weekends ago at the Superior Dome, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2019 Finals. See also below highlights from the weekend from State Champs Sports Network, and keep an eye on Second Half for a schedule of replays of the 8 and 11-Player Finals on FOX Sports Detroit.
The two first-time Finals qualifiers helped fill most of Ford Field’s lower bowl Saturday, and Davison emerged with its first championship. The game was highlighted by the play of standout quarterbacks Brendan Sullivan of Davison and Colby Newburg of Brighton, who both were added to the MHSAA record book for their performances (see more below).
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon Mona Shores 35, Detroit Martin Luther King 26
The Sailors earned the first of the weekend’s “upsets,” never trailing against the 2018 Division 3 champion Crusaders. For the second-straight week, back-up quarterback Brady Rose led the way with all-stater Caden Broersma injured. After King came within two points early in the fourth quarter, Rose led another scoring drive to put the game away.
11-Player Division 3: River Rouge 30, Muskegon 7
River Rouge suffered only one loss this season and played a solid group of opponents, so calling this an upset is tough – but likely still accurate as Muskegon had been considered the state’s best regardless of division (especially after defeating Mona Shores 53-0 during the regular season) and had received national recognition. Rouge scored the final 30 points after an early deficit.
11-Player Division 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 44, Detroit Country Day 0
When these two met in the 2016 Final, they combined to score 17 points. This rematch saw many more, at least for GRCC as it scored 44 of the 111 total points Country Day gave up this season. Cougars quarterback Joey Silveri, just a sophomore, cemented himself as a player to watch over the next two years as well, and receiver Jace Williams tied a Finals record as GRCC won its third title in four seasons.
11-Player Division 5: Lansing Catholic 31, Almont 17
The Cougars came back from a bit of an ugly first half offensively to claim their first championship since 1985. Lansing Catholic scored the final 24 points of the game, also earning coach Jim Ahern his first Finals title of a career that began 50 years ago. This was the third Cougars team he had brought to Ford Field this decade, while Almont was making its first Finals appearance.
11-Player Division 6: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 7, Maple City Glen Lake 0
The Falcons scored their first Finals championship since 2014 in one of the lowest-scoring title games in 45 seasons of MHSAA Football Playoffs. SMCC put the game’s only points on the board on quarterback Wyatt Bergmoser’s six-yard TD run with 7:17 to play in the first half. The Falcons otherwise dominated defensively and controlled the clock to secure the win.
11-Player Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia 14, Jackson Lumen Christi 0
The arguably most power-packed of the weekend’s Finals saw Pewamo-Westphalia win its third championship in four seasons and end a 35-game winning streak for Lumen Christi, which had won three straight Division 6 titles. Both teams had fewer than 120 yards of total offense, but P-W was able to get into the end zone with three seconds left in the first half and again during the game’s final minutes to finish an unbeaten fall.
11-Player Division 8: Reading 33, Beal City 6
The Rangers opened the weekend with a repeat championship in Division 8, moving to 27-1 over the last two seasons with only a 14-0 Week 1 loss this fall to Pewamo-Westphalia breaking up the perfection. Reading scored the final 19 points and outrushed Beal City 260-42. The Aggies were playing in the Finals for the first time since 2013 and coming off two-straight sub-.500 seasons.
8-Player Division 1: Colon 26, Suttons Bay 14
Colon also won a Division 1 matchup of two teams seeking their first championship, following two-way standout Brandon Crawford to victory at the Superior Dome. The game was tied into the final minute of the third quarter, but the Magi scored the final 12 points to finish off an undefeated season and their closest of 13 wins.
8-Player Division 2: Pickford 48, Portland St. Patrick 15
The Panthers returned to the 8-Player Finals and claimed their first championship after finishing Division 1 runner-up in 2018. Quarterback Jimmy Storey closed his high school career running for three touchdowns and throwing for two more, helping hand the Shamrocks their second runner-up finish in three seasons and only loss of this fall.
Star quarterbacks found the spotlight at both the 11 and 8-Player Finals. The Division 1 game saw Brighton’s Colby Newburg (332 yards) and Davison’s Brendan Sullivan (330) both make the all-time 11-Player Finals record list for total offense and passing yards as well with 290 and 249, respectively. Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Joey Silveri is ranked 10th in Finals total offense after his 375 yards (236 passing, 139 rushing) in Division 4, and Pickford’s Jimmy Storey ranks sixth on the 8-Player Finals list with 298 totals yards after passing for 152 and running for 146.
Silveri also made the 11-player passing touchdowns list with four, and Jace Williams was the main beneficiary. He tied the 11-Player Finals record with three touchdown catches and was the first to catch that many since 2013.
Colon’s Brandon Crawford made the 8-player records twice for rushing – his 205 yards were the third-most in 8-Player Finals history, and his 94-yard touchdown run was the longest rushing play. Colon as a team ranked fifth with 340 yards rushing.
Muskegon Mona Shores kicker Keegan DeKuiper and Davison kicker Trennor Rhodes both were added to the 11-player list for most extra points in a Final, both connecting on all five of their respective attempts.
Brighton, while in defeat, made the 11-Player Finals list with 23 first downs against Davison. Detroit Martin Luther King and Muskegon Mona Shores in Division 2 joined Hartford and Onsted from the 1993 Class CC Final as the only opponents to go an entire championship game without punting.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central became one of eight teams to win a championship by scoring seven points or fewer.
Both Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Reading tied for second on the first downs allowed list giving up only four apiece.
Lansing Catholic’s Zack Stone and Zach Gillespie both snagged two interceptions, joining 31 others tied for third for most interceptions in one championship game.
There previously was not a category for most extra-point attempts blocked, but it was impossible to not add one after Detroit Country Day blocked five tries by Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
Stories Behind the Scores
First-time champions: They reigned again, with Davison, Muskegon Mona Shores, River Rouge, Colon and Pickford matching last season’s total of five first-time winners. That makes 10 first-time champions over the last two seasons, compared with a combined three in 2016 and 2017.
Defense wins championships: After no Finals shutouts in 2018 and just one apiece in 2017 and 2016, this season’s Finals saw Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Pewamo-Westphalia all hold their opponents scoreless. Total, the 10 runner-up teams scored an average of 11 points. River Rouge saw its season defensive points allowed average fall to 7.6, GRCC’s fell to 8.8, P-W’s to 4.5 and Reading’s to 7.4 points per game. Colon finished the season giving up just 5.5 points per game – perhaps even more notable given the wide-open offensive attack characteristic of 8-player.
Unsung no more: A pair of previously or at least little-known quarterbacks before last week’s 11-Player Finals will certainly be well-known entering next fall. As noted above, Mona Shores junior Brady Rose was forced into action early in his team’s one-point Semifinal win over Walled Lake Western, and he finished an incredible two weeks running for 90 yards and three touchdowns, completing 8-of-11 passes for 122 yards and a score and making a team-high 10 tackles with an interception against King. River Rouge junior Mareyohn Hrabowski burst onto the statewide scene in the weekend’s final game with 175 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and 45 yards passing against Muskegon.
Ahern’s work rewarded: As noted above, Lansing Catholic coach Jim Ahern finished with a Finals championship for the first time, a well-deserved achievement for an architect of multiple programs that have had elite success. Ahern ranks 13th in MHSAA history with a 301-152-6 record at three in-state schools beginning in 1969 (and not counting his seasons coaching in Florida during the end of the last decade). In addition to bringing the Cougars to Ford Field three times over the last nine years, Ahern led Ithaca’s program from 1972-2003. Among his standouts there was current Yellowjackets coach Terry Hessbrook, who is the first to credit Ahern with building the foundation that has led to Ithaca’s five Division 6 titles and two runner-up finishes over the last decade. Ahern pioneered the spread offense in this state, writing a book nearly 20 years ago teaching the scheme that is now used all over the country.
Fun with numbers: Friday’s four-game attendance was just 17,971 fans – the lowest of the decade for one day at Ford Field. But Saturday’s four-game attendance of 30,466 was the highest since 2010 for one day. Together, the 48,437 fans for the weekend fell in line with the five-year average for the 11-Player Finals.
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS: (Top) Davison and Brighton fans helped fill the lower bowl of Ford Field on Saturday. (Middle) Pickford celebrates its championship at the Superior Dome two weekends ago. (Top photo by Paige Winne; middle photo by Cara Kamps.)
DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.
“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.
King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.
The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.
Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.
The Crusaders never looked back.
“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”
Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.
Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.
Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.
Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.
Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.
Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.
“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.
“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.
King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).
The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.
“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”
Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.
It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.
“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.
“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”
Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”
“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.
“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.
Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.
“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.