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D1 FINALS: DON-MINATION >> Michigan-bound Donovan Edwards runs over stout Davison defense, leading West Bloomfield to its first state title

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, January 23, 2021, 8:45 pm

DETROIT — Donovan Edwards came back for this.

Already enrolled in classes at the University of Michigan, and moved into the dorm, Edwards made sure he had a waiver from the NCAA so he could fulfill his dream of leading the West Bloomfield program to its first state title. 

And boy, did he ever do that. 

Edwards ran for 257 yards and three scores in Saturday’s Division 1 championship game, shredding the proud defense of the defending champion Davison Cardinals, and leading the Lakers to a dominating, 41-0 win.

“I was definitely motivated to win a state championship. I said it three years ago, I promised my team. I said ‘I promise y’all, by the time I leave high school, we’ll win a state championship,’ and we did. I’m very blessed. Me and Mekhi (Elam) actually talked about it when we were in seventh and eighth grade. We said when we go to West Bloomfield, we’re going to win a championship,” said Edwards, who sat on the bench, head bowed while his teammates cavorted on the field after the clock hit zeroes.

“I was embracing the moment, thanking God for leading us here. I thank God every day, every moment. Thank you for the opportunity, that you’ve endured for us — us as human beings.”

It’s been a moment the Lakers have been working toward since Ron Bellamy became coach. 

The Lakers got to the championship game in 2017, but lost 3-2 to league rival Clarkston in one of the lowest-scoring title games of all time. 

“It never came out of my mind since we lost it. Every day, it’s a motivating factor for me. I remember when we lost the game, the locker-room atmosphere wasn’t what it was supposed to be. I don’t know — we just didn’t get the job done that day,” said Edwards, who only made it in a handful of plays, and touched the ball one time for 6 yards.

Ridding himself — and the program — of that bad memory was a large portion of the reason he came back. 

“He came back. He came back. He knows he’s the best player in the state. But most importantly, he came back to win a championship. He was on this team, (for the) 3-2 (loss), and he watched the seniors cry. He said ‘I don’t want that my senior year.’ We’re here,” said Bellamy, who reportedly will be joining Edwards at Michigan as a coach on Jim Harbaugh’s staff. “It’s surreal. This feeling is so surreal. We waited so long for this moment, and it hurt — these last few years, since we last played at Ford Field, I can tell you, man. In my power, and in my coaches’ power, we want to develop a champion, and we’ve been so close, but so far.”

It was a loss to rival Clarkston that got the Lakers (11-1) going in the right direction this year, too.

“We feel like we play in the best football conference in the State of Michigan, in the OAA Red. Davison is very similar to what our league presents, in my eyes. I guess we’ve gotta give kudos to coach Richardson and Clarkston. They knocked us off our high chair. From that moment, we locked in, we focused. We became a football team when we lost to Clarkston in Week 3 of the football season. And at that moment, that’s when you started seeing the blowouts, every single game. That’s our league. Our league prepared us for this moment,” Bellamy said. “I was worried. When COVID shut us down, I thought we were playing the best football in the entire state of Michigan, hands down. We got shut down, and when the kids came back, we didn’t miss a beat. If we could finish this mission, we would finish this mission. To say that we were going to win in dominating fashion like we did today, I didn’t think so, but I thought we were the better team. I thought we were the more talented team.”

The Lakers proved it right off the bat, counterpunching after an early trade of fumbles, getting a 78-yard touchdown run from Edwards to go up 7-0. 

Jake Ward’s first of two field goals — this one from 39 yards — and Elam’s 13-yard touchdown run gave the Lakers a 17-0 lead at the break. 

Edwards added touchdown runs of 71 and 16 yards in the third quarter to make it 38-0, then spent the fourth quarter on the bench, done for the afternoon, having finished just 50 yards shy of the finals rushing record. 

“The line gave me great opportunities to hit the hole, and I used my vision, used my strength, just took advantage of their defense’s weakness. But they had a great defensive game-plan. Their linebackers fill holes very well,” Edwards said. “I mean, it ain’t nothing new to me. I’m just gonna do what the beast do.”

Through regional finals, the Cardinals had allowed just five rushing TDs — just one more than it gave up in Saturday’s title game — and 725 rush yards on 217 carries (3.34 yards per carry). The Lakers racked up 361 net yards on 33 carries (10.9 yards per carry), and dominated despite not completing either of two pass attempts. Filling in for the third game for departed quarterback Brendan Sullivan, Dion Brown Jr. completed 4 of 14 passes for 42 yards, but was sacked three times. 

“Obviously, mistakes happen, but you just can’t do them here, and against a team like West Bloomfield,” Davison coach Jake Weingartz said. “I’m very proud of our kids, battling through all the adversity this year, with the stop and start, and losing our quarterback to early graduation. Couldn’t be more proud of the boys. Obviously, this is not how we wanted it to end. It was not Davison football today. Sometimes that happens.”

While the Cardinals (11-1) had managed to get along without Sullivan for two games, the Lakers didn’t have to worry about that eventuality. Edwards wasn’t going to miss this for the world.

“I remember having a conversation with Donovan, when we got delayed again, paused again, and the championship game moved to (Jan.) 23rd. Well, they started classes on the 18th at Michigan. I remember telling Donovan, there’s a possibility that you won’t get to play in the state championship game. And he said ‘Hell no. I’m going to play in that game,’” Bellamy said

“I remember getting a call from Michigan compliance, and they said ‘What’s going on?’ And I said, ‘What?’ And they said, ‘Donovan Edwards called the NCAA to try to get a waiver to play in the state championship game.’ Now, mind you, this was before the regionals. We still had work to do. And at that moment, as soon as Michigan compliance called me and said ‘Hey, we’re talking to the MHSAA — we can make this happen. You have our blessings. Coach Harbaugh called.’ I said, ‘We’re going to win a state championship.’ …

“Because I’ve never seen him locked, and focused like this. And I’ve been around him since he was in elementary school, acting like a fool.”

Bellamy also continued to boost his player for the STATE CHAMPS! Mr. Football award. 

“Nonetheless, he’s the best football player in the State of Michigan. All due respect to (Muskegon Mona Shores’) Brady Rose. I think Brady Rose is a phenomenal athlete. This IS the best football player in Michigan. Five-star. Big college. Whatever it may be,” Bellamy said. “Teams come to stop one football player. And to have 200-some yards — and remember, we’re a team that does not play our players the entire football game. So if we want to make Donovan Edwards a 3,000-yard rusher, we could. We win it the right way. And is this my Public Service Announcement for Donovan? Hell yeah it is. It is not close.”

How about in Bellamy’s long career in football? 

“I’m from Louisiana, and I got a chance to play against Ed Reed in high school, I got to play against Reggie Wayne in high school, Eli Manning. I played against some NFL Hall of Famers in high school, on the same field. He looks like them,” Bellamy said. “It ain’t the cliche, ‘Best football player,’ for nothing. He looks like he’s going to play football for a long time in the NFL, be an All-American at Michigan. Obviously some things have to happen in his favor. But you saw it — he just looks different on the field. Probably only touched the ball no more than 15 times today.”