Detroit King’s march this season to its fifth state football in school history was orchestrated by one of the top conductors in the nation.
Junior quarterback Dante Moore turned in another solid outing in Saturday night’s 25-21 win in the Division 3 state final over DeWitt at Ford Field.
Moore was 18 of 24 passing for 228 yards, but it was the defense that made clutch plays and proved be the difference for the 13-1 Crusaders.
A goal line stand with just over two minutes to go denied DeWitt a repeat championship when linebackers Karl Williams and Blake Bailiff, along with 315-pound interior lineman Terrence Maize, stopped Panthers running back Bryce Debri short on fourth-and-goal at the 1.
Terel Hollingsworth and Marquise White also combined made a key fourth-and-goal stop at their own 8 during the third quarter to keep DeWitt (12-2) off the board.
Bailiff and Williams led the way with 10 and eight tackles, respectively, while holding DeWitt’s potent offense to 263 yards in total offense.
The Crusaders also got a pick-six in the first half from junior defensive end Kenny Merrieweather along with an interception by Terrence Brown to start the fourth quarter which led to Brown’s go-ahead 3-yard TD run with only 8:22 remaining.
“Great job by the kids staying focused, staying confident and believing in themselves,” King coach Tyrone Spencer said. “An awesome group of kids. We persevered through and we won, and I’m happy for the kids and everybody. It’s always fun to be here.”
If there was a star for DeWitt, it was 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior wide receiver Tommy McIntosh, who was all over the field.
The Wisconsin commit finished with six catches for 90 yards and one touchdown, while also starring on the defensive end with three tackles, including recovering a fumble and coming up with a key tackle on fourth and goal, both coming in the opening quarter.
Nick Fleger was another standout in a losing cause with a team-best 69 yards rushing and a team-high 11 tackles, including eight solo. Bryce Kurncz contributed seven tackles, including two for loss to go along with a pass breakup and sack.
Cougars’ quick understudy
Grand Rapids Catholic Central, which captured its fifth state title in the past six years with a 31-7 win Saturday over Marine City in Division 5, lost starting quarterback Joey Silveri to a season-ending injury midway through the year, but didn’t miss a beat en route to a 14-0 record.
That’s because John Passinault stepped in and the Cougars didn’t miss a beat. Passinault had played the position before, but it took awhile to adjust during the season.
Passinault capped his football career by going 15 of 28 passing for 221 yards and a pair of TDs on Saturday.
He now focuses his attention on another sport.
“I play baseball, that’s what I plan to play in college,” said Passinault, a pitcher and middle infielder. “This winter is going to be big just to figure out as far as recruiting. I have an offer from an NAIA school, Aquinas College, then I’m looking at some smaller D2 schools and hoping to get some D1 looks, but we’ll see where the winter takes me.”
Irish eyes are smiling
Grand Rapids CC may not see another player for quite some time in senior wide receiver and defensive back Nolan Ziegler, who is headed to Notre Dame.
Ziegler finished with seven catches for 136 yards and two TDs, but was also a demon on defense with a team-high 13 tackles, including eight solo.
The 6-4, 210-pound senior will be an early enrollee; he reports to South Bend on Jan. 10.
Ziegler said he is open to any role, but more than likely he’ll be a rover or linebacker.
“A strong safety-type, kind of like what I was doing today,” Ziegler said.
Irish blood has been in his veins since childbirth. He attended Notre Dame games as a youth and once had his picture taken with former All-American tackle Chris Zorich. His favorite ND player growing up was linebacker Jaylon Smith.
“I was born on St. Patrick’s Day,” Ziegler said. “I couldn’t imagine playing for another team other than Notre Dame. I want to bring a national championship there.”
Although his team didn’t come away with a state title, Marine City junior quarterback Jeff Heaslip can hold his head high.
Under pressure most of the game by a relentless Grand Rapids CC defense, Heaslip went 14 of 22 passing for 138 yards and a TD.
Heaslip plays baseball in the spring, but in the winter, he’s going to literally dip his toes in the water and try a new sport.
“I just joined the swim team, so I actually report on Monday,” he said. “The swim coach talked me into it. They needed more people, I’ve never done it ... I’ll be in the pool Tuesday.”
It’s called girl power
Marine City junior Shaylen Haney became only the second female to score points in an MHSAA final when she booted an extra point with 3:04 remaining in the first half after the Mariners scored their lone TD.
Haney split the point-after kicking duties all season with fellow junior Ella Hensley.
Marine City's Olivia Viney is believed to be the first female ever to suit up in for a football state final game during the 2013 Division 4 game, a 49-35 win over Grand Rapids South Christian.
She made all six PAT attempts in that game and was 60 of 64 for the season, plus a 30-yard field goal.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit King's defense stands up tall in Division 3 state final