Belleville — High School football in the state of Michigan resumed Saturday afternoon after an eight-week break and No. 1 Belleville faced No. 2 Detroit Cass Tech in a Division 1 regional final showdown.
No, it didn’t have the same hype as it would have been if the game had been played on its original Nov. 20 date of Nov. 20, but the weather certainly was better than expected — 40 degrees and sunshine — and Belleville earned a 43-16 win in a game that was pushed back multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cass Tech played without the King twins — Penn State-bound cornerback receiver/cornerback Kalen King and linebacker/running back Kobe King — members of The News Dream Team who opted out.
And, Belleville was without Purdue-bound receiver Deion Burks who also opted out, along with four-star junior safety Myles Rowser (death in the family).
Kobe King was a dominant force throughout the season, rushing for nearly 800 yards while getting in on 95 tackles while Kalen King got things done in all three phases, scoring on long touchdown catches after hauling in short passes in space, playing shutdown corner and as a return man in special teams.
Still, each team had plenty of talent, including Belleville quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid who entered the game as the state’s career record holder for TD passes (132), including 37 this season with just one interception.
And, Dhue-Reid put on another strong performance (13-of-20 for 199 yards, 3 TD passes).
“This was a great win, Coach Crowell had coached at Cass Tech, he and Wilcher are best buddies and he wanted to beat him, so it was great for the team and great for the community,” Dhue-Reid said.
Yes, it was Teacher versus Pupil in this one with Cass Tech veteran coach Thomas Wilcher facing Belleville coach Jermain Crowell who worked as defensive coordinator under Wilcher when Cass Tech won Division 1 state championships in 2011 and ’12.
Crowell has guided Belleville to three straight regional titles after the program hadn’t won one prior to his arrival in 2015.
Belleville (10-0) will face No. 4 West Bloomfield in next week’s state semifinal, attempting to advance to the state title game for the first time in school history. Belleville defeated West Bloomfield in the regional title game in 2018 and again last season.
Belleville never trailed and took command with a 28-0 third-quarter to open up a 43-10 cushion, intercepting three passes and turning them into scores, also taking advantage of a short punt for yet another score.
No doubt, Belleville’s defense was showing it had Dhue-Reid’s back since Dhue-Reid fumbled on a third-and-goal play at the 1 with Cass Tech recovering during the final minute of the half to keep Belleville’s lead at 15-10.
First, junior linebacker Cameron Dyson stepped in front of Leeshaun Mumpfield’s pass for Jameel Gardner and scored on the 24-yard interception return for a 22-10 lead less than two minutes into the third.
“It was crazy, saw the ball and went for it,” Dyson said. “I saw it was doubles, saw him (Gardner) run a slant so I got my hands on him, ran with him, saw the ball and went and got it, then got tired (on return) so I dived for it (end zone).”
Then, Belleville junior linebacker JaShawn Greene hauled in Mumpfield’s pass, which was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and returned the interception to the Cass Tech 34, and Dhue-Reid found Darrell Johnson for 22 yards to set up his 5-yard TD pass to Tyree Lockett for a 29-10 advantage.
Belleville had been winning the battle of special teams and took advantage of another bad punt to get possession at the Cass Tech 8. Dhue-Reid quickly went to work and found Lockett for an 8-yard TD pass for a 36-10 lead with 58 seconds left in the quarter.
And, Belleville wasn’t finished. Cass Tech was on an impressive drive with Karriem Sharrieff breaking loose for a 42-yard run to the Belleville 25, but then junior defensive back Charles Wilson cut in front of a receiver near the left sideline and returned the interception 85 yards for a TD and 43-10 lead on the final play of the quarter.
“Both defenses know each other well because we run similar offenses, but playmakers make plays and at the end of the day that pick by Cam Dyson was big,” Crowell said. “Then, when (defensive back) Christian Rapley (shoulder) was hurt, Charles Wilson stepped in and made a big play, so it was a total team effort. I was also very proud of what we did on special teams.”
When asked how it felt to beat his mentor in Wilcher, Crowell replied: “It’s a really odd and eerie feeling since it’s not the game that everybody wanted because everybody wanted to see all the top players play. I’m happy to get the ‘W’ because under the circumstances we’re playing football in January and I don’t know if this will ever happen again in high school football.”
Belleville looked in control following Dhue-Reid’s 6-yard TD pass to Rashad Wilson and 2-point conversion toss to Deshaun Lee gave Belleville a 15-3 lead with 5:02 left in the first half.
But Cass Tech came up with a big play, a 74-yard TD pass from Mumpfield to Gardner, who caught the pass on a crossing pattern over the middle and then got away from Lee’s tackle at midfield to pull within 15-10.
Still, Cass Tech left Belleville with more than three minutes and Dhue-Reid was at his best, first finding Johnson for 14, yards to midfield, then connecting with Johnson on the next play for 32 yards to the 18, followed by a 12-yard pass to Lockett to the 6.
Belleville failed to get the ball in the end zone when Wilson was tackled at the 1 on a first and goal pass, then Dhue-Reid was stopped for no gain on a second-down run and Dhue-Reid fumbled on third-and-goal, which Cass Tech’s Darius King pounced on to end the threat.
No doubt, Cass Tech had to feel fortunate to be down 15-10 at halftime, especially since it lost the battle of field position and Belleville showcased much better team speed.
On Cass Tech’s initial drive, Belleville linebacker Aaron Alexander got through the line to tackle Sharrieff for a loss of one on a second and goal from the 2, then linebacker Ahzahnn Byrd pushed Sharrieff out of bounds for a loss of four on third and goal to make Cass Tech settle for Josh Hernandez’s 24-yard field goal.
Belleville scored on the game’s opening drive, but things didn’t start out right when Lee, who was wide open, dropped Dhue-Reid’s perfectly thrown deep pass on the first play from scrimmage.
Belleville did take a 7-0 lead through when Dhue-Reid connected with Wilson for 15 yards and Lockett for 20, followed by a fourth-down run by Dhue-Reid to the Cass Tech 5 to move the chains and set up Kobe Langford’s 4-yard TD run.
“It was really important to score on that first drive since I’m a four-year starter and have the guys to work with so we wanted to set the tone for the defense and then they took over and did their job,” said Dhue-Reid.
Sharrieff, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior, rushed for 118 yards on 17 carries. Mumpfield finished 8-of-17 for 128 yards but had the three interceptions and only hooked up with Gardner one time for four yards in the second half after they combined for 116 yards on three passes in the first half.