DIVISION 3: King takes rematch with Muskegon, preventing the Big Reds’ repeat, winning third title in four years
DETROIT — The repeat did not happen, because of the rematch.
All season long, as defending Division 3 champion Muskegon cruised along on its winning streak, the Big Reds’ motivational mantra was trying to become the first of the program’s championship teams to defend its title, and repeat the next season.
Ever since a Week 2 loss to the Big Reds, the Detroit Martin Luther King Crusaders just wanted another crack at Muskegon.
And once they got it, the Crusaders made the most of it, winning Saturday’s Division 3 championship game, 41-25, to claim King’s fourth title and third in four seasons, and ending Muskegon’s 27-game winning streak.
“This is just a surreal moment right now,” said King quarterback Dequan Finn, who finished his high school career with a five-touchdown performance, earning himself a second ring. “I’m at a loss for words.”
Until the brackets came out, and King slid down into Muskegon’s division, Saturday’s D3 finale rematch didn’t look like it was probable. Once it became possible, though, boy did the Crusaders want it.
“Too bad, because the first game, we lost. And we said ‘Hey. Not twice.’ We gotta go back and get it. We gotta get it,” said Dominick Polidore-Hannah, who caught a pair of first-half touchdown passes from Finn, admitting it was a blast. “Man, I can’t even say it. So much (fun).”
The surprising part wasn’t necessarily that King (12-2) won — everyone knew they had the weapons to win a shootout — but it was a little more eyebrow raising the margin by which they beat a Muskegon squad (13-1) that was considered by many to be the best team in the state, regardless of class or division.
The Crusaders punted on their first possession, and turned it over on downs with 19 seconds let to play, but in between scored touchdowns on six straight possessions. The game plan was just to limit Muskegon’s possessions, and get ahead of the Big Reds, so they couldn’t use their giant offensive line — with 1,525 combined pounds of linemen, anchored by LSU-bound Anthony Bradford on the right side — to pound away at the King defense. Maybe even force Muskegon into a position where it had to do things it was uncomfortable with — like pass the ball out of necessity.
And it worked.
“Oh, it’s great, man. So many King teams lost to them. They’re a great team, rich history and tradition, like us. It feels really good to beat them,” King coach Tyrone Spencer said. “Defensively, we had a couple of different wrinkles, but our philosophy was hey, get a turnover, get a stop if we can, let them drive the ball. We wanted to get up on them, and make them come out and do some other things, and we were able to do that later on.”
Muskegon went on one time-grinding drive, late in the third quarter, taking more than seven minutes off the clock before Cameron Martinez ran it in to cut King’s lead to 21-17. But the Crusaders didn’t give up any big plays, and forced Muskegon to work for every inch.
“Their big guys up front, we knew they were bigger than us. I told our kids, play with great effort, and just move around a little bit. There’s nothing you can do — they’re bigger than you. If you give great effort, they’ll get a little tired. You guys are a little smaller,” Spencer said. “They’re so big, you’re not going to be bigger than them, so play with great effort, and execute the defense. That’s all you can do with a line like that. I knew our offensive line could get a little bit of an advantage, because they weren’t going to play big No. 75 (Bradford) both ways too much.”
King answered Muskegon’s time-killing drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Finn to Ahmad Gardner to re-establish a two-score lead.
“I knew that my guy was better than his guy,” Finn said, “so I just put all my faith in him, trusted him, and made sure I delivered the right throw.”
Then the Crusaders gave Muskegon a dose of Peny Boone. The 215-pound bruising runner finished with 111 yards, 52 of them coming on a one-play drive midway through the fourth quarter. The long touchdown jaunt, when the Crusaders were just trying to run some clock themselves, made it a 35-17 game.
“I was just supposed to take care of the ball. I didn’t think I’d get a big run like that,” said Boone, who figured he got fewer than five carries in the first meeting with Muskegon. “It’s my first time out here (at Ford Field), so I had to go crazy. I just had to give it to my offensive line. Them boys were going crazy for me.”
Muskegon needed just 58 seconds to respond with a Cameron Martinez to Ali’vonta Wallace 13-yard touchdown pass to cut it back to a 10-point game, but King ground three minutes off the clock before adding another Finn touchdown to ice it. On this one, a Muskegon defender undercut the slant pattern and deflected it … right into the hands of the intended receiver, Darrell Wyatt.
The biggest turning point may have been the opening series of the second half, though, when the Big Reds had a dropped pass on a potentially huge play, then had to punt. After a first punt attempt was erased by penalty, the second snap went over the punter’s head, and the panicked punt after he picked it up left King with a short field. Finn capped off the drive himself with a touchdown run, establishing the first two-score lead of the game for either team.
“We had a better punt, too. Even though we didn’t move the sticks, we punted the ball down inside the 20. We get the great punt, then we’ve gotta punt it again, because we didn’t have enough guys, and it goes over his head,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “It was a huge sequence to happen on the first series of the second half of the game.”
Martinez finished with 221 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 37 carries, while Finn had 73 rushing and 173 passing.
“Just his playmaking ability, his decision-making. He was calm. He’s been here before, and he looked like it. He didn’t look rattled, or he wasn’t doing too much. He just played in the moment. That’s why he just played so well,” Spencer said. “Dequan played fantastic. Just captain of the ship. He wasn’t rattled at all. He just played well. Just proud of what he did these three years, his 35th win — 35-6 as our starting quarterback, with two state championships. Not bad at all.”
Muskegon had to settle with a fifth runner-up finish in program history.
There are lessons to be learned from that, too.
“Just that this is fun. I mean, losing’s not fun, but winning 14 games, and 27 in a row, getting back to another state championship, winning all those trophies on the way, it was a great experience. So don’t shoot for anything less than the best. It would be easy to lose Game 9 or Game 1. We could’ve lost a game against (East Grand Rapids), and then just kind of fade off into the sunset, and then everybody starts working on next year. We’re going to get it right, we’re going to keep winning all these games, we’re going to get here, and we’re going to win more than we lose, or someone has to beat us before we get here,” Fairfield said. “So the experience is, just keep working hard, and play until you can’t play anymore. No one else is playing on Friday. They won another one, we lost another one, but they’re not playing on Monday, either. We gave ourselves a chance to be in this.”