DETROIT – Past disappointments tucked away in his mind, Dante Moore knew what he needed to do with an elusive Finals title on the line Saturday night at Ford Field.
Detroit Martin Luther King’s junior quarterback needed to make a play to put the game away. And that’s exactly what he and senior receiver Chansey Willis Jr. did.
Pinned against their own goal line, Moore and Willis converted a big third-down play to seal King’s 25-21 victory over last season’s MHSAA Division 3 champion DeWitt in a hard-fought title game.
It was the first Finals championship for Moore, the highly recruited 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, who after the game was presented the State Champs! Mr. Football award. Facing 3rd-and-6 from his own 5 and with his team holding a four-point lead, Moore hit Willis on a 7-yard play to move the chains and enable the Crusaders (13-1) to run out the clock.
Moments earlier, King’s defense stuffed DeWitt (12-2) on 4th-and-goal from the 1 in the back-and-forth contest.
“I just say, ‘Hey,’ I looked at Chansey – how we’ve been all year – ‘I’ll lead my guy, let’s get this pass. They don’t have any more timeouts. We can win this game,’” Moore said. “I gave him my trust throwing him the ball, and he’s going to do what he do: Catch the ball, get down and get the first down.”
The championship was King’s first since 2018 and fourth in seven years.
During Moore’s freshman year in 2019, King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores, 35-26, in the Division 2 Final. Last year, the Crusaders fell in the Regional to River Rouge, which lost a 40-30 shootout to DeWitt in the Division 3 championship game.
“Blessings. Ever since we lost my freshman year to Mona Shores, a shot at that great team; last year we lost in the Regionals to River Rouge. I mean, we’ve been hungry for it,” said Moore, who finished 18-of-24 passing for 228 yards with an interception.
“A lot of seniors on this team have got rings, but a lot of juniors, sophomores and freshmen were really hungry for it. After the start of conditioning in the summer time and being out here right now, we’ve just been really hungry for this moment and we appreciate it.”
King played like it early.
The Crusaders scored in the game’s first minute, as senior Terrence Brown sprinted for a 51-yard touchdown run. They made it 13-0 just 1:18 into the second quarter when junior defensive end Kenny Merrieweather tipped a pass and turned it into a 45-yard pick-six.
“Just being a ball player, trying to just make plays to try to win the game for me and my teammates,” the 6-4, 245-pound Merrieweather said about his interception return.
That was the start of a wild quarter when the teams combined for 33 points. Despite trailing 19-7 with three minutes left in the half, DeWitt stormed back to take a 21-19 lead into the break.
Senior QB Ty Holtz, who led the Panthers to the title last year, sandwiched 6- and 15-yard TD passes to seniors Bryce Debri and Tommy McIntosh, respectively, around a 6-yard scoring run by King’s Brown. Then, in the closing seconds of the half, Holtz electrified the DeWitt crowd by intercepting Moore and returning it 69 yards for a TD.
That put DeWitt in front by two at halftime, a lead the Panthers held until junior Sterling Anderson Jr. scored on a 3-yard run with 8:22 remaining in the game to put the Crusaders back in front, 25-21.
Holtz finished 10-of-18 for 153 yards with two picks. Six of his completions went to McIntosh, the University of Wisconsin commit, who finished with 90 receiving yards.
Holtz guided DeWitt deep into King territory during the game’s final minutes, as the Panthers had 1st-and-goal from the 10, but they could not punch it in.
“I mean, Ty Holtz, I want to give him a shoutout on defense, first of all,” Moore said. “I mean, him being a quarterback and being at safety, eyeing me wherever I go. … He was throwing the ball around to Tommy and the other teammates. It was a great team, a great coaching staff. They were here last year, they won it, so big shoutout to them.”
Brown led all rushers with 113 yards on 11 carries. Willis caught four passes for 111 yards. Senior Blake Bailiff led King with 10 tackles, including stops on each of DeWitt’s final four offensive plays.
It wasn’t Moore’s best game statistically, but King coach Tyrone Spencer was impressed with the way he ran the team.
After losing at Carmel (Ind.), 42-40, on a Hail Mary in the season opener, the Crusaders finished the year with 13 straight wins.
“I just love the way that kid (operates); he’s so poised,” Spencer said about Moore. “He throws an interception, he’s in the locker room, I mean, it doesn’t faze him. He comes back out and he does what he needs to do. They were taking the pass away from him. They had safeties all over the top, bailing out late and we had to stick to the run game. Sometimes, that’s going to take away from what you can do in the air, and that’s fine. We got a win. He found a way for us to win.”
For DeWitt, senior Nicholas Flegler paced his team with 11 tackles and 69 rushing yards.
He is one of 21 Panthers who will graduate in the spring and also played a significant role on last season’s champion.
“They grew up together and played together. They’ve won for a long period of time and they learned from the previous group, and I think that’s something that’s just carried on,” DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman said. “We’ve got young kids coming up that want to be just like these guys.”
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (23) jets down the sideline as a DeWitt defender works to wrap him up. (Middle) Chansey Willis Jr. (2) prepares for contact as the Panthers’ Bryce Debri (21) pursues. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)