Quarterback Jalen Graham leads Country Day past River Rouge, 20-14
Hazel Park – The seasonably cold weather, snow and wind certainly played a factor in Saturday’s Division 4 semifinal between Detroit Country Day and River Rouge.
Both teams had to adjust to the sudden change in weather and it was Country Day (13-0) that handled it better as the Yellowjackets hung on for a 20-14 victory at Hazel Park.
“I think (the conditions) had an impact, no doubt about it,” Country Day coach Dan MacLean said. “You had 70-degree weather yesterday and here we are playing in tough conditions, but both teams had it and I think some of that was we put some pressure on them, we have our outstanding nose man Christian Love, and I think that impacted there center because I think he was having to think about blocking him, but that was a heck of a ball game.”
Country Day will play Grand Rapids Catholic Central (12-1) for the title Friday at Ford Field at 4:30 p.m.
River Rouge (11-2) turned the ball over on its first possession and Country Day recovered on the River Rouge 17-yard line.
Country Day attempted to go for a fourth down conversion on fourth-and-5 but fumbled and the Panthers recovered on their own 2-yard line.
After forcing a punt, Country Day started its next possession on the Panthers’ 44. Jalen Graham ran 25 yards to the 19-yard line setting up his touchdown pass and a 6-0 lead.
River Rouge quickly answered with an 8-yard touchdown run by Devin Montgomery to cap off a five-play drive and take a 7-6 lead with 4:45 remaining in the first quarter.
The lead didn’t last long as Country Day drove down from its own 40-yard line and took a 13-7 lead on a one-yard rushing touchdown from Kolin Demens.
“We knew we were going to have to win a lot with the running game and we would have to pass when it was necessary,” Graham said. “We wanted to score but that defense is good and they held us at some points, but we just wanted to get first downs and keep the drive going.”
Country Day added another score late in the second quarter on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Chris Bergin to take a 20-7 halftime lead.
“(Graham) is a very talented young man, and yeah we believe in him and the things that he can do, but he is a sophomore playing in a big ball game, and yeah he can make some things happen for us so that’s always part of our hooray, part of our plan,” MacLean said.
It appeared the second half was going to be much more of an offensive game when the opening kickoff was returned by Country Day to the River Rouge 34-yard line. Country Day was unable to get a drive going and eventually turned the ball over after an 8-yard sack on fourth down.
Jarius Grissom’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Giovanni Turner on the Panthers’ first possession in the third quarter brought River Rouge to within 20-14.
Ultimately River Rouge would get the ball back with 1:49 left in the game. But Country Day stopped it on downs and took home the victory.
“It was not a thing of beauty, and the kids persevered, it was a good thing.” MacLean said. “We have a senior laden team and that’s what you hope you get. You know you get those guys to pick it up and made some big stops, and wish we would have moved the ball a little better, we came up with that kickoff return in the second half and thought we were going to go and maybe get one and get a little cushion there, but they hung in all the way and give a lot of credit to River Rouge because the never quit.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Remember to watch the highlights from this game on the STATE CHAMPS! HS Sports Show, Sunday morning at 9:00 am on Fox Sports Detroit!