River Rouge Ends 2019 with Stunning Finish

November 30, 2019

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

DETROIT – River Rouge wasn’t intimidated by Muskegon’s national acclaim or 859 football victories, the most by any Michigan high school.

If anything, the chance to knock off the unbeaten and top-ranked Big Reds brought out the absolute best in the Panthers.

After spotting Muskegon a 7-0 lead, Rouge scored the final 30 points to claim a 30-7 victory in the Division 3 championship game Saturday night at Ford Field.

“We are known for basketball, but now we have a football title,” said 10th-year Rouge coach Corey Parker, who lauded his team for playing fearlessly on both sides of the ball. “Now we have a football title, and 20 years from now these guys are going to be talking about it.”

All the talk coming into the game centered on Muskegon senior quarterback Cameron Martinez, the two-time MLive Player of the Year who had rushed for more than 2,000 yards. But the talk afterward was about a different QB – River Rouge’s Mareyohn Hrabowski.

Hrabowski, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, answered an early score by Martinez with three rushing touchdowns of his own, finishing with 15 carries for 175 yards – an average of nearly 12 yards per carry. He also completed 6-of-12 passes for 45 yards.

“I just had to follow my blocks,” said Hrabowski. “I had faith in myself and my team, and we came out on top.”

It was the first Finals appearance and championship for Rouge, which has qualified for the playoffs all 10 years under Parker. Rouge lost its opener this fall to Friday’s Division 4 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central before reeling off 13 straight wins. The Panthers were ranked No. 5 in Division 3 entering the playoffs

The other storyline Saturday was the Rouge defense, which held a Muskegon team averaging 49 points per game to a season-low seven.

The Panthers did it with an ultra-aggressive strategy, sometimes with all 11 defensive players within three yards of the line of scrimmage just daring Martinez to throw the ball.

Instead, Muskegon kept trying to find a way to break Martinez through the initial wall and into the clear, but it never happened.

Martinez, a 5-11, 190-pound senior who has committed to Ohio State, finished with 108 rushing yards, but it took him 34 carries to get there – at 3.2 yards per carry. He also did not complete a single pass, going 0-for-5 through the air.

“We just didn’t play our game, really,” said Martinez, who faced relentless pressure every time he dropped back to throw. “We have played great for 13 weeks, and we picked a bad time to play bad.”

Hrabowski scored on runs of one and 40 yards in the second quarter, as the Panthers took a 14-7 lead into halftime.

Rouge (13-1) kept its foot on the accelerator during the second half, with Rmontaye Caldwell returning the third-quarter kickoff 36 yards to the Muskegon 35-yard line. On the next play, Hrabowski went 35 yards on a keeper and the lead was 21-7.

The score remained the same until the fourth quarter, when Rouge rounded out the scoring on a 31-yard field goal by Avery Burch and a 33-yard run by Deandre Bulley.

Bulley, a 6-2, 245-pound senior who is being heavily recruited by schools at the Division I level, came into the game needing just 80 yards to reach 2,000 for the season. He came up five yards short, with 15 carries for 75 yards, but Hrabowski more than made up the difference.

Rouge used extremely wide splits on the offensive line to open up running lanes for Hrabowski, who stunned the stingy Big Reds’ defense with his vision and deceptive speed in the open field. On two of his scoring runs he faked a jet sweep handoff and ran straight ahead behind guard Deshawn Smith and tackle Chance Moore through the left side of the line and eventually into the end zone.

The final stats bear out Rouge’s dominance.

The Panthers held a 330-180 edge in total yards, including a 45-0 edge passing. Rouge outrushed Muskegon 285-180.

Darieon Jones, a 5-8, 190-pound senior defensive back, was everywhere for Rouge, registering a game-high 14 tackles, including 10 solos. Linebacker Deshawn Walker had eight tackles, and Tyron Jones and Chastin Cross each made six stops.

River Rouge has been known around the state as a basketball school, winning 12 Class B state titles under legendary coach Lofton Greene during the 1960s and 1970s. But now the Panthers, who are part of the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference, are making a name for themselves on the gridiron.

Rouge made a statement by dominating Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 49-14 in the Regional Final, then overcame a 7-0 fourth-quarter deficit in last week’s Semifinal to knock off Chelsea 14-7.

The Panthers rode that momentum into the Final.

Muskegon, led by senior linebacker Tarran Walker and senior safety Tyreese Oakes with nine tackles apiece, added another layer of frustration to its Ford Field troubles.

The Big Reds have played in a championship game at Ford Field seven of the last eight years. But the lone victory, and the lone Finals title for 10th-year head coach Shane Fairfield, came with a 28-10 victory over Farmington Hills Harrison in 2017 for the Division 3 championship.

“That’s the way it happens,” said Fairfield, who last week became the second-winningest coach in Muskegon High School history. “We won 13 games and made 13 other teams feel this way. This is the risk you take. You could lose early or not even make the playoffs and never experience this.”

Muskegon, which had won 40 of its past 41 games entering Saturday night, is the winningest program in state history with 859 victories, a total which also ranks seventh nationally.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) River Rouge quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski rolls out and finds a receiver as Muskegon’s Billy Johnson Jr. (42) and Dwight McKinney close in. (Middle) River Rouge defenders including Rmontaye Caldwell (17) surround Big Reds quarterback Cameron Martinez. 

Moore Finishes Legendary King Career by Leading Crusaders to D3 Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

November 27, 2022

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.”

Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. 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).

King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.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.

Click for the full box score.

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.