Fruitport pulls out thrilling overtime victory over Muskegon Catholic [VIDEO]

By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

It certainly was a contrast of styles Friday night.

And by every reasonable statistical assessment, the smash mouth approach of Muskegon Catholic Central dominated the visiting Fruitport Trojans.

That is, dominated, except for the most important stat of them all … the scoreboard.

In an instant classic that won’t soon be forgotten by any of the thousands who witnessed the contest in person, the undefeated Trojans climbed to 8-0 following an electrifying 24-21 overtime victory over the Crusaders (5-3).

“Our kids stayed in it and challenged themselves to overcome what is a very, very good, well-coached Catholic squad,” said elated Trojan head coach Greg Vargas following the game. “They always are, so we knew that going into it.”

For Catholic coach Mike Holmes, the loss was a shocking end to a game that highlighted his squad’s dogged determination and will to win.

“It’s a disappointing way to finish,” said Holmes, from the coaching room just feet away from a stone-cold silent Crusader football locker room. “We certainly didn’t do ourselves any favors. We did everything we needed to do out there except win. We found a way not to close.”

Surprising, had Coach Vargas stayed on the school bus until the end of the game – and merely looked at the stat sheet once it was over – chances are pretty good he wouldn’t have believed his team was on the winning side of the ledger.

Try these stats on for size: Muskegon Catholic had 20 first downs to Fruitport’s 7; Catholic had 67 rushing attempts and gained a net 223 yards on the ground, while Fruitport gained just seven net rushing yards; Catholic had 73 offensive plays to Fruitport’s 30; Catholic earned 287 total yards to the Trojans’ 185; and, perhaps most incredibly, the Crusaders held a 34:54 to 13:06 time-of-possession edge over the visitors.

And yet, the Trojans made the big plays when it counted, never letting the hosts get more than a one-TD lead despite teetering on the brink of that the entire game.

“(Catholic) just kept coming back and we just kept coming back,” said Vargas. “You can definitely say this game made us tougher. This is the kind of game that’s going to help us down the road, in the playoffs.”

On Catholic’s opening drive, Fruitport got a pretty good indication this would not be your typical Lakes 8 Conference affair – where explosive offensives and lax defenses are fairly common – as the Crusaders embarked a clock chewing 21-play drive that stalled on the Trojan 10.

Fruitport blocked the ensuing 27-yard field goal attempt, taking over at the Catholic 10. Four plays later, however, the Crusaders’ Alex Lewandoski blocked a Trojan punt, with teammate Ian Tyler recovering in the end zone to provide the game’s first score.

Fruitport, capitalizing on a Catholic double-reverse fumble, soon answered, as senior Trojan quarterback Tyler Fehler connected with senior wideout Aaron Veihl, first on 60-yard pass play and then on an 11-yard TD to make it –  following a successful Matt Boroff PAT – 7-7.

Catholic took the lead again on its first possession of the second half, a sprawling 11-play drive that covered 69 yards and was capped by a 4-yard Zach Campbell bootleg keeper around left end.

Early in the fourth quarter, though, came the play of the night. Campbell, scrambling for a receiver, held on to the ball too long. The Trojan defense descended, knocking loose the ball, and senior Alan Jones scooped up the loose ball and returned the fumble 60 yards to tie the contest at 14-all.

The Crusaders again took the lead, this time with just over six minutes remaining, following another blocked punt attempt. Taking over on the Trojan 20, Catholic needed just two plays to score, coming on another Campbell bootleg, this one of the naked variety, around left end 12 yards for the score.

But again, Fruitport answered. With six minutes remaining, the Trojans put together an 80-yard drive across six plays, as Fehler connected with Mitchell Reyes from 27 yards away to tie the game.

Four minutes later, the game headed to overtime.

Once there, the Crusader defense stood tall, forcing a 27-yard field goal by Boroff after three-straight Fruitport incomplete passes.

On Catholic’s first overtime play, Campbell was picked off by Fehler in the right corner of the end zone.

“I’ve never been in an overtime game,” said Fruitport’s Reyes, who finished with two catches for 42 yards. “It was an incredible way to win the game.”

Reyes said the hard-fought victory would come in handy down the line.

“If we are ever in an overtime game again,” he explained, “we’ll be able to say to ourselves, ‘We’ve been here before.’”

Vargas too believes this win will pay off down the road.

“MCC has a bunch of tough, smart kids, so we are fortunate to come away tonight with the win,” he said. “This (win) makes us battle-tested for sure. It’s like we’ve already played a playoff game.”

Fehler finished with 8-for-15 passing for 178 yards and 2 TDs, with teammate Viehl  hauling in six catches for 136 yards and a score.

Campbell led all rushers with 15 carries for 96 yards and two scores, with Lewandoski adding 94 yards on 28 carries and Jessie Anderson had 64 yards on 20 carries.

Campbell also totaled 5-for-6 passing for 64 yards and one interception.

Fruitport’s Jacob Breese led all defenders with 17 tackles, with teammate Amilio Flores totaling 15 tackles and Nathan Kriger adding 13 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Lewandoski led Catholic’s defense with five tackles and Cari Campbell and Phillip Mesker each added four tackles.

Mesker also had two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and two passes defended.

 

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