By Tom Kendra
Who: Detroit Martin Luther King Crusaders
Colors: Black & Gold
Coach: Tyrone Spencer, 7th year, 75-17 (82 percent). Spencer, a 2003 Detroit King graduate, won a state title in his first year as head coach in 2016 and added crowns in 2018 and 2021.
Record: 9-3 overall, 5-0 and champions of the Detroit Public School League – Blue Division.
Notable wins: King split with archrival Cass Tech, winning the first meeting, 28-23. The Crusaders knocked off River Rouge (41-28) in its playoff opener, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (22-12) in the regional finals and No. 1-ranked Mason (52-17) in last week’s semifinals.
Losses: King’s losses came against Warren Central of Indiana (44-26), Detroit Cass Tech (28-23) and Cincinnati Moeller of Ohio (30-14).
King vs. Muskegon: King is 1-6 all-time against Muskegon, and 1-1 against the Big Reds in state championship games. Muskegon beat King in 1989 for the Class A state championship (16-13) and lost to the Crusaders in the 2018 D3 finals, 41-25. Muskegon is 5-0 against MLK in regular-season games, beating the Crusaders in 1986, 2008, 2009, 2018 and 2019.
Ford Field history: MLK is 5-3 in state championship games – winning in 2007 in D2 over Midland (47-21), 2015 in D2 over Lowell (40-38), 2016 in D2 over Walled Lake Western (18-0), 2018 in D3 over Muskegon (41-25) and 2021 in D3 over DeWitt (25-21). Two of the three losses in title games came against Muskegon-area teams – Muskegon (16-13) in Class A in 1989 and Mona Shores (35-26) in D2 in 2019. The other finals loss came to Detroit Catholic Central (21-0) in Class AA in 1990.
Playing up: King is actually a Division 4 school with 764 students, but elected to play up in Division 3 this season.
Offensive standouts: Senior QB Dante Moore (6-2, 210) is a 5-star recruit who has committed to Oregon, but Michigan State is reportedly working to flip him. Moore has completed 154-of-227 passes (68 percent) for 2,117 yards, 28 TDs and just three interceptions. His favorite targets are senior Kansas commit Jameel Croft (6-1, 185) and senior running back Sterling Anderson (5-8, 165), who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, much of it behind senior right tackle Zontez Calhoun (6-3, 250).
What Muskegon needs to do defensively: First and foremost, Muskegon must find a way to get pressure on Moore. Look for long junior defensive ends Stanley Cunningham (6-5, 190) and Terrance Davis (6-6, 205) to try and use their height and long reach to disrupt Moore. Senior cornerbacks Amariyan Glover (5-10, 155) and Kingston Blackmon (5-7, 160) have been outstanding run-stuffers the past few weeks, now they will have to come up big in coverage.
Defensive standouts: Senior DE Kenny Merrieweather (6-3, 235), who has committed to Iowa, has been a problem for every offense this season. Merrieweather has registered 13 sacks. Croft is a dominant defensive back who has eight interceptions, including two last week against Mason. Senior safety Tim Ruffin (5-9, 150) leads the Crusaders with 63 tackles.
What Muskegon needs to do offensively: Look for MLK to do what River Rouge did so successfully against Muskegon in 2019 – jam the area between the tackles to take away running lanes for QB M’Khi Guy. The Big Reds then have two options: run the ball on the edges (Destin Piggee or CJ Ivy) or throw the ball down the field to Piggee or wideouts Aly’juan Paris (6-1, 160) or Da’Carion Taylor (5-11, 160).
Intangibles: King’s defensive tackles are massive, but in 2019, diminutive Mona Shores quarterback Brady Rose repeatedly squirted past them before they knew where he was. Look for Guy to try and do the same, not for huge gains, but for short, positive runs.
What to expect: On paper, it looks like the offenses should dominate – with Muskegon historically struggling against strong passing teams and King getting torched by small, fast quarterbacks. The defense that gets a few stops – or causes a few turnovers – might be the team that prevails.