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.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)