On a cloudy, rainy and windswept day, the Detroit Public School League (PSL) football championships commenced at William Hill Field on the campus of Renaissance High School. Doing battle were Central vs. Fredrick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. versus Cody.
When the referees ran off the field and pocketed their whistles and flags, standing in the middle of the field celebrating championships were Central and King.
For Central (8-1) it was a celebration that was a long time coming. The Trailblazers last won a PSL football title in 1972 where they outlasted King 8-0.
Central last played in a title game in 1983, and, ironically its coach, Eric Smith, played on that team that was coached by the late Woodrow “Woody” Thomas, and they lost to Bernard Hall and Henry Ford in a memorable PSL title contest.
It was a long time coming, but Smith and his Trailblazers found redemption with a 14-6 win over Douglass (6-2) and its coach Andre Harlan in the PSL Division B title game.
It was a closely matched contest as Douglass took an early 6-0 lead that could have been even greater if not for a couple dropped passes in the first half.
“Central earned the win,” said Harlan, “but we made a too many mistakes that hurt our chances. We had our opportunities and it hurts to see them celebrate. The bottom line is we have come a long way and we still have a ways to go to get to the level we expect.”
With only a little more than three minutes left in the first half, a trick play produced Central’s first score. Quarterback Devote Brown threw a lateral to Jaylyn Massenberg that hit the ground, but he picked it up and threw a bomb to Maurice Casteel and he out fought a Douglass defender for the ball and the result was 75-yard touchdown. The Trailblazers made the two-point conversation and held an 8-6 lead throughout the defensive struggle.
“I’m not surprised we won,” junior defensive and offensive tackle Eric Crume said. “We put in the work in practice and we were well prepared.”
Added senior linebacker and fullback Ramon Stokes: “It feels great to be in this position. I could tell from our effort all year that this team could get it done, and, we did.” Senior offensive and defensive back Darnell Marshall understood that history had been made.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “It’s been 37-years since this school has won a title, and we are the team that made it happen again.”
Smith said at the end it was divine intervention. With about one minute left in the game, the sun suddenly broke through and Brown tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Massenberg with 30 seconds left to put the game on ice.
“Did you see the sky open up and the sun come out?” Smith questioned me. “I knew it was coach (Thomas) and my dad looking down on us. They shined their light on us one last time and I could feel them.” Douglass’ only score came on a 56-yard punt return by Marquise Phillips in the first half.
In the PSL Division A championship King (7-2) held on to overcome a gallant Cody squad, 19-14.
All held their breath in anticipation of what many considered one of the better title contest in recent years, King versus undefeated and defending champion Southeastern. But a supposedly ineligible players knocked out the Jungaleers and gave Cody its first ever PSL title appearance.
The Comets took advantage of the gift and gave King all it could handle. They were prepare and tough.
“I give a lot of credit to Cody,” King’s coach Dale Harvel said. “This was the most physical game we have played all year. Guys were flying around and putting their hat on the ball, this was a tough game.”
King sophomore running back Dennis Norfleet’s 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter opened the scoring for King. Before one could say hallelujah, Robert Daniels returned an interception 9 yards for another King score.