Rough Stretch, Lessons Learned Pay Off with Flat Rock's 1st Playoff Win Since 1976

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

November 8, 2022

FLAT ROCK – On July 31, Flat Rock football players Corey Lannon and Graham Junge were on the football field when they noticed a soccer player kicking the ball.

Southeast & BorderLannon grabbed his phone and texted Flat Rock head coach Buck Reaume about what he saw. 

“He said, ‘We need to get this guy on the team,’” Reaume said.  

On Friday night, with a Division 5 District championship on the line, Flat Rock’s Mitchell Smith booted a game-winning 23-yard field goal to give the Rams a 29-28 victory over Romulus Summit Academy North. It was not only Smith’s first field goal attempt in a game, but it was also the first field goal attempt in Reaume’s five years as Rams head coach. 

“I never hesitated,” Reaume said of the decision to kick the field goal when Flat Rock trailed Summit 28-26 with 7.3 seconds left in the game. “It was the right call. Graham came over to the sidelines and said, ‘Let’s kick it.’ I had all the confidence in Mitchell.” 

Confidence has been earned as Flat Rock is going through a fairy-tale season. Before this year, the Rams had never hosted a playoff game and hadn’t won a playoff game since the 1976 team won the Class C championship. At that time, the MHSAA Playoffs were just two rounds. 

The 46-year postseason win drought ended in the first round of the playoffs with a 27-22 victory over Dundee. The District title gave the Rams eight wins, their most in a season since the 1976 team went 11-0.  

“It’s almost like a magical season the way things have gone,” Reaume said. “In our last four games, we’ve won by a total of eight points. Three out of the four we won by one point. The last couple of games have been really high suspense, but we’ve come out on top. We’ve been on the other side of those kinds of games, too.” 

Flat Rock was 3-3 after a 20-14 loss to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central as they maneuvered through a rugged Huron League schedule. In two of those three losses, the game came down to the final play. 

“We grew up and learned from those things,” Reaume said.  

In Week 7, the Rams shut out Grosse Ile 28-0. Since then, the Rams have a 29-28 win over New Boston Huron, a 57-56 win over Livonia Clarenceville, and the victories over Dundee and Summit Academy. 

Flat Rock coach Buck Reaume and his family celebrate the District title win. This week, the Rams welcome Detroit Country Day for another home playoff game. 

“The crowds have been amazing,” Reaume said. “We have a first-year assistant coach, and I told him that things aren’t always like this. It’s been crazy.” 

Flat Rock’s success has been a long time coming.  

Reaume is a former quarterback at Riverview Gabriel Richard. He coached at Southgate Anderson for 10 years before getting hired as a teacher at Flat Rock in 2013. He was an assistant coach one year before being named head coach. It came on the heels of back-to-back 0-9 seasons for Flat Rock. 

“My thought process was things could only go up,” he said. 

By his third year, Flat Rock reached the playoffs for the first time in nearly 30 years. 

“That was a big deal,” he said. 

After a 4-5 finish in 2019, COVID-19 shortened the Rams’ 2020 season to seven games. Flat Rock didn’t win any that fall, but the foundation for this year’s eight-win season was laid when Reaume and the coaching staff elevated several sophomores to the varsity. 

"Our seniors are a great group of kids," Reaume said. "We had a lot of them up during that COVID-19 year, the shortened season. That group took our lumps. We got pounded that year.  

“The idea was it was going to pay off down the road, and it has. There’s no quit in these guys. That benefited us.” 

One of those seniors is Drew Given. Given, a wrestler in the winter, has been a running back for most of his time in the Flat Rock football system. When the season started, Reaume realized his team was going to be short on offensive linemen. He went to Given. 

“I thought we would be good this year because of all of our skill guys,” Reaume said. “The line was a bit of a question though. We went to Drew before the season and asked if he was interested in moving to the line. Given never hesitated and is now a starting guard. 

“His response was, ‘I’ll do anything you want. I just want to win,’” Reaume said. “He’s a good wrestler. He’s small. He is 5-(foot-)6, 170, but he’s tough. He’s a bulldog. That’s the epitome of this team. They don’t care what they need to do to help us win. It’s not always easy to find kids to do that.” 

Reaume said his football players grew tired of settling for close losses and coming close. Flat Rock began last season 2-1 but finished 2-7, with late losses by two and eight points.

Rams quarterback Graham Junge has set his area’s record for passing yards. “For the past few years, there was a lot of moral victories,” Reaume said. “It would be like, ‘Hey, you won the second half,’ or ‘You played them tough.’ I told them this year that was no longer enough. Our seniors had heard that all of their sophomore and junior years. I think they were sick of that. There are no more moral victories. I think they bought into that.” 

One of the big reasons for Flat Rock’s success has been the play of Junge, a sophomore. He was thrust into the Rams starting quarterback spot as a freshman last year when starting QB Aaron Salazar went out with a knee injury. Junge was impressive right away. 

“He did everything we asked,” Reaume said. “He kept his poise and showed a lot of maturity. You could tell he had talent.” 

Junge is a student of the game. He watches a lot of film and studies opponents before every game. 

“It’s impressive,” Reaume said. “He has a lot of input. He’ll text me on Saturday or Sunday, saying, ‘Hey I like these plays.’ We’ll meet on Mondays and go over the plays we like, and he has a ton of input. 

“He has a lot of leeway on the field. We’ll call the play, and he will make some adjustments. He’ll signal something to the guys. He makes a lot of good decisions.” 

Junge has passed for a Monroe County Region record 2,528 yards and 28 touchdowns.

“I like watching film,” Junge said. “The cool thing about football is by watching film you can outsmart the defense.” 

Salazar is another player who selflessly moved to a new position to help the team. The former starting quarterback is now Junge’s favorite target at wide receiver. Salazar has 72 receptions for 931 yards and nine touchdowns.  

“He’s been incredible, coming off knee surgery and playing a position he hadn’t played in a couple of years,” Reaume said. “He’s been phenomenal at it.” 

Lannon is second on the team in receptions (54) and yards (694). 

“Nobody cares about numbers,” Reaume continued. “It’s a very selfless team. They only want to win.” 

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Flat Rock quarterback-turned-receiver Aaron Salazar hauls in a pass during a season that’s seem him gain nearly 1,000 yards through the air. (Middle) Flat Rock coach Buck Reaume and his family celebrate the District title win. (Below) Rams quarterback Graham Junge has set his area’s record for passing yards. (Action photos by Dana Stiefel. Reaume family photo courtesy of Buck Reaume.)

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.