Belleville rolls past Monroe, 49-33, to claim first-ever district championship
BELLEVILLE — History was made Friday night: For the first time ever, Belleville is one of the final eight.
Not in the careers of Jeremy and Jason Gold, or their little brother Ian, the standout NFL linebacker, did the Belleville Tigers go three rounds deep in the football playoffs. Nor in the careers of longtime NFL defensive linemen Kris and Cullen Jenkins did the Tigers’ playoff lives outlast the Halloween candy.
Nope, for all their regular-season success, and impact players, Belleville had never won two playoff games in a row, before Friday’s Division 1 district title game.
Led by six touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid, the Tigers beat Monroe 49-33 to clinch the program’s first district championship trophy.
“It means a whole lot. We’re making history. We’re making people that played before us proud. That’s something to be real happy about,” said senior Devontae Dobbs, the Michigan State commit at offensive tackle. “We just want to keep making them proud, making ourselves proud. Just keep hitting our goals, hitting the little goals on the way to the big goal.”
The big goal for the Tigers (11-0) is still in front of them: Given all the talent on the roster, and despite the program’s traditional lack of playoff success, Belleville came into the season tabbed as one of the favorites to compete for the Division 1 championship.
And now, only seven other teams are left in the division with the Tigers.
Up next is a West Bloomfield squad that has been on a similar trajectory of churning out top-tier talent in recent years, finishing as last year’s D1 runner-up. The Lakers (9-2) beat Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 20-17, in overtime to advance to next Friday’s regional championship at Belleville.
“It’s a big moment for Belleville, the first district title in their history. So I’m excited for them,” Belleville coach Jermain Crowell said. “I’m still looking at that 33 points we gave up. We’ve still got a lot to work on. We have to be able keep it up for four quarters. We’ve yet to put it all together. It’s scary — we play in flashes. They gotta get consistent.
“That’s not going to cut it against the runner-ups from last year. Gotta try to get them dialed back in and focused.”
The Tigers didn’t take long to get focused in Friday’s game, not after the Trojans (7-4) — old Mega-Red and Wolverine Conference foes of the Tigers that they hadn’t gone up against in a decade — came out and slugged them in the mouth at the start of the game.
On the opening kickoff, Monroe ran the starburst kickoff return — where several returners huddle together, then break apart in all different directions, leaving the coverage team to figure out which player has the ball — to perfection. Jared Banks wound up with the ball, and sprinted through one tackle 85 yards for a touchdown.
“We had scored three times (on that play). Jalen (Johnson), No. 4, got it twice. Coming in, we knew all eyes were going to be on Jalen,” Monroe coach Nick Notario said. “Well, guess what? I got another back that can do it. And he broke a tackle and scored. That was awesome.”
After a three-and-out by the Tigers, Monroe drove the play down the field 72 yards, the last 36 coming on a Banks sprint for the goal line after breaking one arm tackle at the line of scrimmage.
“We’re starting to get used to that by Jared Banks,” Notario said of the junior, who finished with 141 yards, admitting that he couldn’t have scripted a better start for his team. “No. They came out to play, they came out to play hard, and I’m very proud of them.”
The point-after attempts failed on both early touchdowns, but the shocking impact was still there: Monroe led 12-0 just over halfway through one quarter of play.
It took the Tigers all of four plays and 55 seconds to regain control, scoring two quick touchdowns — one a 64-yard bomb from Dhue-Reid to Deion Burks, and the other an 18-yard quick screen to Jalen Williams — on two-play drives and adding the extra points for a 14-12 lead.
“I was a little worried when we came out and they jumped out on us 12-0. The guys fought back,” Crowell said. “We’ve got a pretty good offense, so I thought that we would get back into it, but I was just moreso disappointed in the defense and the lack of tackling. We’re just too inconsistent.”
Dhue-Reid would add a 33-yard touchdown pass to Julian Barnett on the first play of the second quarter, then — after a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Jalen Hunt, followed by a failed fake punt by the Trojans deep in their own territory — a 25-yard scoring strike to Burks to make it 35-12. A 10-yard fade to Williams in the final half-minute of the first half gave Dhue-Reid a fifth touchdown pass, and the Tigers a commanding 42-12 lead.
“We just needed some time to get it rolling, and once we got it rolling, can’t nobody stop us,” Dobbs said. “I know what we can do. At the end of the day, we just want to be winners, and we know we’re going win. Whatever we gotta do, we’re just going to get it done.”
Dhue-Reid added a 10-yard touchdown to Barnett in the second half, giving him six total touchdowns on the night.
“He’s going to be special. He’s still gotta work on his maturity, and not being so emotional. But he’s going to be special,” Crowell said. “We’ve got a lot of explosive players, players that people don’t talk about. I don’t think we’re ever really out of it, but we’re going to have to come to play next week.”
Crowell was especially perplexed by the second half, where the Tigers were outscored 21-7, allowing the Trojans back within two scores with just more than three minutes to go.
The Tigers had 53 total yards in the second half — 55 on their one scoring drive, which culminated in Dhue-Reid’s sixth touchdown pass, his second to Barnett — and 14 plays for a net loss of 2 yards on their other four possessions combined, as they worked in five different reserve ball-carriers.
The Trojans, on the other hand, racked up 195 of their 275 total yards in the second half, converting two of three fourth-down attempts (the other fourth-down survival was due to penalty), and recovering one of four on-side kick attempts.
“You knew they were going to come (back). That’s a good team, man, a very good team. They’re well-coached, and play hard,” Notario said. “I couldn’t have been any prouder of my boys. Could not have been any prouder. I challenged them at half to win the second half. Who cares what the score is, let’s just win the second half. They did. I’m very proud of them.”
Banks, Cole Sulfaro and Johnson all scored rushing touchdowns in the second half, but the Trojans were held to negative-17 yards passing on the game.