Keith Dunlap Special to Detroit Free Press
Published 11:40 AM EST Nov 10, 2018
With all due respect to the homecoming dances each year at the school, this might have been the most meaningful dance party ever held at Belleville High School.
Following a 13-10 win over West Bloomfield in a regional final on Friday night, Belleville players joyfully took a couple of minutes to dance, shout and waive a flag with the school logo on it near midfield to celebrate another mountain conquered.
For the first in school history, Belleville will play in a state semifinal when it takes on Clinton Twp. Chippewa Valley in the Division 1 semifinal at Troy Athens on Nov. 18.
More: Clinton Twp. Chippewa Valley, David Ellis (Indiana) no secret anymore
Before this season, Belleville had never gotten beyond the second round of postseason play.
That fact was especially disappointing the last three years, given the elite talent on the roster that produced 25 wins.
After going 8-1 in 2015, the Tigers lost in the first round to Ann Arbor Pioneer, 22-7.
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Two years ago, Belleville got crushed by Saline in a first round game, 38-7, after entering the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.
Last year, Belleville went undefeated before losing to Canton in a district final, 28-25.
This season has been different.
Belleville rolled to a 28-7 win over Dearborn in the first round, beat Monroe, 49-33, to win its first ever district title and overcame a litany of mistakes to outlast West Bloomfield on Friday and earn a shot at a Ford Field appearance.
“The coaching staff, we have grown together and we’ve learned a lot,” said Belleville coach Jermain Crowell, who is in his fourth year. “A lot of the kids we started the program with, they were ninth graders starting as freshmen. They are seniors now. They’ve been through a lot of disappointments. Canton celebrating on the field (last year). They don’t want to ever experience that again.”
Standing on the field in the midst of a throng of players, parents, students and administrators who were witnesses to school history on Friday, Belleville senior and Iowa-commit Jalen Hunt said two traits about this year’s team that have been different are composure and unity.
Last year, when the going got tough, the tough didn’t get going.
Instead, the tough got to arguing and fighting.
“This year, we have focused on coming together as a family and not arguing on the field,” Hunt said. “We have just come together. There were instances (of arguing) last year. This year, our main focus was to be a family during tough times.”
Crowell said another factor in his team’s success is that it became more battle-tested playing in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association for the first time this year.
The Tigers played close games against Brighton (40-35), Westland Glenn (26-21) and Dearborn Fordson (29-26), which seemed to better prepare them when it trailed West Bloomfield in the fourth quarter, 10-6.
“We’ve been through this and I’m never surprised,” Crowell said. “We’ve got a good group of kids.”
In particular, Hunt said beating Fordson felt like the team was overcoming its hump and was poised for big things this year.
Now that its climbed to heights never previously reached, Belleville hopes to go up even higher, starting with a semifinal showdown against Chippewa Valley.
If the Tigers conquer that mountain, you can bet there will be another dance party.
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