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Belleville escapes heavyweight fight with West Bloomfield to capture regional title, make it back to D1 semifinals

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 16, 2019, 7:30 pm

BELLEVILLE — They never got to the woodshed, let alone behind it, but they were punching its address into the GPS.

After scoring 27 unanswered points to erase an early 15-0 deficit against West Bloomfield, and put themselves on the precipice of a runaway win, Belleville kept trying to land the knock-out blow in the second half of Saturday’s Division 1 regional championship game.

It never landed.

And West Bloomfield never went away.

Befitting of a game between the two biggest heavyweights in D1 — and the last two preseason No. 1-ranked teams — the Lakers avoided the haymakers, and counterpunched in the fourth, scoring with 1:54 left to cut the deficit to one score, recovered the onside kick, and marched to the Belleville 35 before turning it over on downs.

The Tigers knelt out the clock on a 27-22 win to claim the regional title, and move on to the semifinals for the second straight season.

“They didn’t want to go for it. They fought to the end, and that’s good. We’re going to need that,” Belleville coach Jermain Crowell said. “We’ve got Brighton, and this is Round 4. That’s going to be another 15-round fight.” 

Belleville (12-0) will face Brighton (10-2), a 35-20 winner over Hudsonville Friday night, in a 1 p.m. matchup at Howell High School. Belleville and Brighton have met three times over the previous two seasons, with the three Tigers wins coming by a total of 23 points.

West Bloomfield (10-2) ends its season in the regional finals against Belleville for the second straight season, both in one-score contests.

“We knew this was going to be a four-quarter game, no matter what the score was early on. They made one more play than they did. Kudos to those guys. It stinks, but it was just two titans battling today,” said West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy, whose team wouldn’t go away easily. “It was like that last year. We just keep playing football, and just play until the clock says zero. We just came up a little short.”

The Lakers jumped out to a 15-0 lead before Belleville got its first first down of the afternoon. 

Cornell Wheeler trapped Belleville’s Christian Dhue-Reid in the end zone, with the intentional grounding call, the safety making it 2-0. 

Donovan Edwards scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns out of the Wildcat to make it 9-0, then scored a second 1-yard plunge to make it 15-0 with 8:13 left until halftime. 

“I thought we’d be OK, as long as we didn’t let them get another score. I thought we’d do a good job of coming back,” Crowell said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of explosive players. To get them an opportunity to let them make some plays, we had to get the ball back. Get the ball back, and they’ll do something with it.”

Belleville avoided disaster with a muff on the ensuing kickoff, keeping the Lakers from piling on another score with a turnover on downs, then finally picked up a first down with 5:47 left in the before halftime.

That’s when the explosion came. 

On a fourth-and-1 at the midfield stripe, TyTrayon Lewis ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run to get the Tigers on the board with 3:17 left until the break. 

“It clicked. Once TyTrayon Lewis scored, it clicked. We woke up, and were down 15,” Dhue-Reid said. “I kinda got woke up a little bit. After that, we started scoring, and they couldn’t stop us.”

Three plays into the Tigers’ next drive, Dhue-Reid hit Deion Burks over the middle, and he pulled away from a shirt-tail tackle to score from 30-yards out to make it a two-point game, 15-13, with 48 seconds left in the first half.

Then the Tigers took the second-half drive 72 yards in six plays to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 26-yard pass from Dhue-Reid to tight end Jalen Williams. 

After a three-and-out by the Lakers, Belleville needed just four more plays to score again, getting a 41-yard pass from Dhue-Reid to Darrell Johnson to make it 27-15 with 4:36 left in the third.

On each of the next three drives, the Tigers took deep shots at thee end zone, trying to make it a three-score margin, but couldn’t connect.

“You can’t allow a good team like them (to get going). And once they got going …

The Dillon Tatum injury hurt us, and they attacked us in the passing game, where he would normally be. We gave up two scores in the passing game, and you can’t do that against a good team like this,” Bellamy said. “But they’re going to make plays. They’re a talented team. We had every opportunity to make plays in the second half, but the penalties, the early down penalties hurt us in the second half, and you can’t do that against a good team.”

A Gavin Hardeman interception with 5:37 left to play gave West Bloomfield a chance to cut into the lead, but the Lakers turned it over on downs. Just 73 seconds of game play later, the Tigers punted it back to the Lakers, and West Bloomfield finally regained its early offensive momentum, driving 80 yards in 10 official plays — and aided by one defensive holding and two defensive pass interference calls — to score on a 12-yard, C.J. Harris-to-Edwards pass up the left seam.

Makari Paige recovered the ensuing onside kick with 1:50 left, giving West Bloomfield a chance to take the lead with a score but, after getting one first down, the drive stalled at the Belleville 35 with three incompletions and a sack, as the Lakers turned it over on downs.