By Matthew Bartow / WLAA
Huron head coach Antaiwn Mack heard the noise leading up to the game: The River Rats couldn’t compete with a state powerhouse like No. 2 Belleville.
Going up against a team that had qualified for three consecutive state semifinals and was 52-5 since the 2016 season concluded, Huron faced a tall task to continue its season. The Rats nearly pulled off the upset, but Belleville prevailed, 14-10.
Belleville (9-1) advances to face Canton (7-3) in next week’s district final. Huron ends the season at 8-2.
Mack said Huron proved Friday night that it can compete with the state’s top programs.
“Our student athletes gave us all they had,” Mack said. “I think everything can see tonight where the program is headed. We’re not a pushover anymore. We’re right here with the top teams that have multiple Power 5 Division 1 offer guys.”
In a game dominated by the stout play from both defensive lines, touchdowns were at a premium. The teams combined for three touchdowns, which came on consecutive drives spanning the first and second quarters.
After Belleville took a 6-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run from Jeremiah Caldwell, Huron took advantage of a short field after a long kickoff return from Davis Hugan. The Rats’ offense covered 55 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Anthony Pinnace to Jamari Thomas.
Huron led 7-6 with 6:48 remaining in the second quarter.
Huron’s lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Belleville’s explosive offense found the end zone again. Belleville scored less than 90 seconds later on a 11-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Bryce Underwood to receiver Kevin Simes. Underwood converted the two-point attempt on an option quarterback keeper to give Belleville a 14-7 lead with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter.
Despite Huron’s valiant effort, Mack acknowledged that the Rats missed several opportunities to score.
“Schematically, we thought there were some things we could take advantage of. I think we let them off the hook on some things, and we should’ve scored 14 more points on offense.”
One such opportunity came midway through the third quarter when Huron blocked a Belleville punt, and took over at the Tigers’ 9-yard line trailing 14-7. A false start and a third-down sack from Belleville’s Jeremiah Warren stalled the drive, forcing a field goal attempt.
Huron kicker Adam Samaha drilled the 37-yard attempt, but the damage was done: Huron missed a golden opportunity to tie the game, and instead trailed 14-10 with 7:22 remaining in the third quarter.
On its next drive, Huron had the ball deep in Tigers’ territory, but failed to convert third-and-10 as a pass missed an open receiver. Again the Rats were forced into a field goal attempt, but Samaha missed a 45-yard attempt.
Huron’s defense came up with big plays all night, and got a huge one when linebacker DeVeion Mclilley recovered a Belleville fumble on a shovel pass in the game’s final two minutes. Mclilley was certainly a bright spot for the Rats, recording several key tackles along with the fumble recovery.
Mclilley’s contributions were not unnoticed.
“[DeVeion] Mclilley is something special,” Mack said. He’s a guy that flies around, has Division I talent, and is a great young man that plays his heart and soul out every game.”
Huron had one final chance to win the game, needing to go 64 yards in the game’s final 1:59. Huron moved the ball to Belleville’s 38-yard line behind two strong runs from Pinnace, but faced a fourth-and-17 after Warren sacked Pinnace for a seven-yard loss on third down.
Pinnace completed a pass to Thomas, but Thomas was stopped three yards short of the line to gain, and Belleville ran out the clock to seal the victory.
Despite losing a playmaking dual-threat quarterback in Pinnace, Huron will return six starters on both sides of the ball, leaving Mack with much optimism for next season.
Mack said Huron’s preparations for next season will begin long before 2022 arrives.
“We need to continue to be committed in the offseason, and continue to take it seriously all year round. We have a two-week break after this, and then we have to go. We have to get back in the weight room and continue to work as well as visit some colleges and continue to bond.”