DETROIT – Not once had Muskegon Mona Shores been held under 33 points this season. Keeping opponents off-balance with their veer option attack, the Sailors averaged 45.6 over 13 games leading up to Saturday’s Division 2 Final, and 47.5 per game during the playoffs.
But Mona Shores hadn’t faced a defense like the one Warren DeLaSalle brought to Ford Field.
Since allowing 36 points to Muskegon in its opener, DeLaSalle’s defense has been as formidable as any in the state – and the Pilots demonstrated that once again on the big stage.
Led by senior linebackers Jacob Dobbs and Devon Campbell, DeLaSalle held Mona Shores to 217 yards in defeating the Sailors, 29-16.
Yes Bear Bryant, defense does indeed win championships (the iconic college football coach is considered to have been the first to make that statement). The Pilots (12-2) held their five playoff opponents to a combined 36 points on the way to not only repeating as Division 2 champions but winning their third title in five seasons.
“Our defense was lights out,” DeLaSalle coach Mike Giannone said. “They’ve been that way all year, and I want to compliment them on it.
“Offensively, we did what we had to do.”
The Pilots set the tone on the first series when Dobbs and safety Derek Roskopp stopped running back Sincere Dent for a four-yard loss on a 4th-and-1 from the Mona Shores 35. The Sailors also went for it on a 4th-and-1 on their next series and were stopped short. The latter stop led to DeLaSalle’s first touchdown, a Nolan Schultz one-yard sneak to give the Pilots a 7-0 lead.
Mona Shores (12-2) tied the game with 1:26 left in the half on a two-yard run by quarterback Casen Boersma. The Sailors had but one first down before their scoring drive, and they received a boost when Dent, a 5-foot-11, 217-pound senior, busted loose for a 24-yard run. Boersma then ran 17 yards to set up his score.
It was a ragged first half as each team gained three first downs, punted four times and combined for 183 yards.
Each team scored on each of its first two possessions to begin the second half, and Schultz’s second one-yard touchdown run gave the Pilots a 21-10 lead with 10:44 remaining.
Mona Shores answered with an eight-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Boersma’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Da’Varius Carter with 7:26 left.
The Pilots put the game away with their best drive, which took 5:29 off the clock and ended with Schultz’s third one-yard sneak for a touchdown. The 12-play drive went 65 yards, and DeLaSalle used 11 running plays, eight by running back Evan Vaillancourt. Vaillancourt gained 24 yards on the drive and had 52 for the game on 18 carries.
Roskopp ended Mona Shores’ last drive with an interception with 31 seconds left.
“Hats off to DeLaSalle,” Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak said. “Defensively, they are tough. I thought our defense did well matching up with their physicality. Then it became a possession game. They wanted to run the clock, and that’s what they did.”
Yes, it was a team effort by the Pilots – but two players stood out: Dobbs and Schultz.
Schultz, a senior, was third on the depth chart before the start of the season. Junior Anthony Stepnitz was the starting quarterback, but he suffered an injury in the fourth game against Birmingham Brother Rice, and Schultz took over the following week.
“(Assistant coach) Bob Schroeder called me up after Anthony went down and told me to try Schultz,” Giannone said. “He liked the fact he was a gamer. He was our starting safety, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that. He started some (at quarterback) on the JV as a sophomore, and we decided to go with him.”
Giannone simplified the offense until Schultz gained confidence. Accounting for 300 yards in total offense against Detroit Catholic Central in a 24-6 victory at Ford Field in the Catholic League championship game did much to build upon that confidence. After a so-so first half against Mona Shores, Schultz was 6-of-7 passing for 132 yards and one touchdown during the second. He also rushed for 41 yards on five carries over the final 24 minutes.
“We’ve been to Ford Field before,” Schultz said. “It wasn’t a big deal for us.”
Dobbs led all players with 16 tackles and forced one fumble. At receiver he had three receptions for 65 yards and one touchdown, a 44-yarder that gave DeLaSalle a 14-7 lead.
“He has a great nose for the ball, and he has great instincts,” Giannone said. “To play with your friends, it means more. These guys have been playing a lot together. It’s more fun.”
Dobbs couldn’t decide which play was more fun, the stop on fourth down or the touchdown catch.
“Everybody did their job,” Dobbs said. “Our defense is amazing. It’s all you can asked for.
“We didn’t see any weaknesses on film (of Mona Shores). They have a big running back. They have a good quarterback, and they have two good receivers. We knew they wanted to run the midline and the veer. Our coaches prepared us for that.”
Campbell had 10 tackles to support Dobbs’ play, and Dent had 10 tackles from his linebacker spot.
Giannone completed his third season at DeLaSalle after spending 15 at Macomb Dakota, where he led the Cougars to two MHSAA Division 1 titles. Much of the credit for the play of his defense goes to Brandon Bush, a starter on the second Dakota championship team (2007), and he’s been Giannone’s defensive coordinator all three seasons at DeLaSalle.
“He was coaching the freshmen at Dakota,” Giannone said. “I saw in him somebody I could trust. It’s all continuity. At Dakota we had the same staff for 15 years. We try to pay it back.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Warren DeLaSalle’s Jacob Dobbs brings down a Mona Shores ball carrier Friday at Ford Field. (Middle) Pilots quarterback Nolan Schultz pushes for one of his touchdown sneaks.
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.)