Following Underwood's Lead, Belleville Finishes Perfect Season with Finals Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

November 26, 2022

DETROIT – Wearing a gray suit, white dress shirt and patterned tie, DeJuan Rogers was dressed "to take care of business" Saturday afternoon at Ford Field.

And with Belleville’s interim head football coach making calls and sensational sophomore quarterback Bryce Underwood making many plays, the Tigers certainly did so, finishing a repeat Division 1 championship run to conclude this time a perfect season as well. 

Belleville wore down Caledonia, 35-17, to earn that second-straight championship. Both have come under the direction of Underwood – a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder rated as the No. 1 prospect at his position in his class nationally.

On Saturday, he finished 15-of-25 passing for 155 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Underwood also rushed 10 times for a game-high 149 yards, including a 48-yard TD scramble early in the fourth quarter that gave his team some breathing room at 28-17.

“Really just taking what they give me,” said Underwood, who already holds scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and several others. “I’d say, being back on this field, I wasn’t nervous because I know what we’ve got to do and knew what we needed to do to win the game.”

Tigers quarterback Bryce Underwood (19) sprints downfield as Caledonia’s Maddox Greenfield (21) works to keep stride.Said Rogers: “You know, second year, two championships and he’s got a lot on his plate. Everybody is watching him and just to keep his composure and do what’s asked of him … it’s not always the big play – not the 70-, 80-yard touchdown – just do what’s asked of him, I thought it was amazing.”

Caledonia (12-2), which made its second Finals appearance and first since the Fighting Scots captured the Division 3 title in 2005, had Belleville on its heels for much of the first half.

The Scots led 7-0 in the first quarter and 14-7 in the second. They had a chance to build upon their margin before halftime, but a timely interception by Adrian Walker on a tipped pass at the Tigers 2 and a 13-yard sack by Lamar Fairfax on 4th-and-4 from the Tigers 34 snuffed out potential Scots scoring drives.

With 15 seconds left in the first half, Underwood connected with Walker on a 7-yard scoring pass to tie it at 14 heading into the break.

Caledonia regained the lead, 17-14, on Luke Vogler’s 22-yard field goal with 2:06 left in the third quarter, but it was all Belleville after that. Jeremiah Beasley ripped off a 36-yard TD run, Underwood had his 48-yard scamper and the Tigers put it away with 3:51 remaining on a 25-yard scoring toss to Mychal Yharbrough.

Colbey Reed rounded out Belleville’s scoring with a tackle-shedding 38-yard run to tie it at 7 late in the first quarter.

“I mean, we expected to come out and compete. I felt like we were as good as they were. I think we needed to score and finish a couple drives early,” Caledonia coach Derek Pennington said. 

“I could tell at the end that they had worn us down. We were giving up 50 pounds a guy, so obviously as the game progressed, we knew they were going to wear us down and we needed to get a bigger lead. We came out, had a good plan – we just needed to finish (a couple drives in the first half).”

Caledonia senior quarterback Mason McKenzie finished with a team-high 134 rushing yards on 23 carries. He was 6-of-18 passing for 77 yards with two interceptions.

Belleville’s Colbey Reed (23) picks an opening.  Brock Townsend scored on 1-yard plunges in both the first and second quarters for the Fighting Scots.

“I mean, we had a great season, so like Coach P said, we’ve got to keep our heads high, but it definitely sucks to lose your last game,” McKenzie said. “It’s my last game at Caledonia, so it’s definitely tough but, I mean, we had a great season. There’s not a much better experience than this. It was really awesome here, but it sucks to lose.”

Beasley paced Belleville defensively with seven tackles, while Blake Herron made seven stops for Caledonia to lead his team.

Fighting Scots senior defensive end Derek Pennington Jr., son of the coach, said that Underwood’s being elusive and tough to bring down made it a challenge, plus of course “he threw absolute darts in the middle of the field.”

“He’s a 5-star kid. He’s the No. 1 quarterback in his class, he’s 6-4 … I mean, he’s a great player,” coach Derek Pennington said. “We had a bunch of kids from Caledonia chasing him around. He’s a good kid and hats off to him – he’s obviously got a bright future.”

Caledonia, which was the smallest school in Division 1 enrollment-wise with 1,490 students, was battle-tested by the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red featuring the likes of Rockford, Grandville and other traditionally strong programs.

Belleville, with an enrollment of 1,789, saw its toughest regular-season challenges during the final weeks before playoff selection. However, the Tigers did survive a major test from Detroit Cass Tech in last week’s Semifinal, 29-28 in overtime, on Underwood’s two-point conversion run to win it, and after defeating Saline and Detroit Catholic Central along the way as well.

Belleville (14-0) was able to overcome any adversity that came its way.

Rogers led the Tigers through this playoff run after coach Jermain Crowell was suspended first by Belleville administration before the start of the postseason and later by the MHSAA through the 2024-25 academic year for violating the MHSAA’s undue influence rules.

“Just no excuses, no excuses,” said Rogers, who shifted into the active head-coaching role after previously serving as defensive coordinator. “Things are going to happen, things might not go our way, but at the end of the day there’s still a job that’s got to be done.” 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Belleville interim coach Dejuan Rogers raises the Division 1 championship trophy Saturday as Felix Shorter (71), Brayden Lane (24) and their teammates celebrate. (Middle) Tigers quarterback Bryce Underwood (19) sprints downfield as Caledonia’s Maddox Greenfield (21) works to keep stride. (Below) Belleville’s Colbey Reed (23) picks an opening. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Performance of the Week: Gladwin's Jhace Massey

September 22, 2023

Jhace MasseyJhace Massey ♦ Gladwin
Senior ♦ Football

Massey, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound starting receiver for the reigning Division 5 champion, moved to quarterback after the team’s starter and top backup were injured against rival Clare on Friday. He went on to run 18 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns, throw for 61 yards and two scores and snag a fourth-quarter interception to help land the Flying Gs a 44-28 victory after they’d trailed 21-3.

The win put Gladwin in first place alone in the Jack Pine Conference halfway through the league schedule. The Flying Gs entered the game ranked No. 4 in Division 5 by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, and Clare was ranked No. 8 in Division 6. Although football has become his favorite sport, Massey also is a top contributor on the basketball team and ran primarily the 100 and 200 meters and on relays during track season in the spring.

@mhsaasports POW: Jhace Massey #football #quarterback #gladwin #letsgo #touchdown #interception #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

@mhsaasports 🏈 POW: Jhace Massey #tiktalk #questiontime #part2 #mcdonalds #gymclass #stephcurry30 #tacotuesday #thumbsup #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

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Past 2023-24 Honorees

Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8:
Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1:
Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report

(Top photo by Mike Kolleth. Headshot provided by the Gladwin football program.)