LSJ Spotlight Games Week 8: Undefeated Muskegon, Mona Shores ready for main event

By Steve Gunn and Nate Thompson
LocalSportsJournal.com

It’s the game everybody’s been waiting for all season.

Muskegon vs. Mona Shores.

Both teams are 7-0 overall. Both are 4-0 in the O-K Black Conference. Muskegon is ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 3 while Mona Shores is ranked No. 2 in Division 2.

Both teams have been cruising through their schedules thus far.

The Big Reds have plowed over their seven opponents by a combined score of 400-21. Five of their seven victories have been shutouts, including the last three – 61-0 over Reeths-Puffer, 70-0 over Grand Rapids Union and 54-0 over Kenowa Hills.

The Sailors have been nearly as dominant, beating their seven opponents by a combined score of 312-86. They only have one shutout, but have raced past their last four opponents – Reeths-Puffer (44-6), Jenison (42-7), Kenova Hills (48-6) and Gran Rapids Union 65-0).

Even more impressively, the Sailors came from behind to beat three high quality opponents – Canton, Zeeland West and Rockford – in the first three games of the season.

Mona Shores quarterback Tristan Robbins battles for yards against Rockford. Photo/Jason Goorman

Now the Sailors and Big Reds will go head-to-head on Friday at 7 p.m. at Mona Shores, with the inside track for the conference title and local bragging rights on the line.

LocalSportsJournal.com will be on hand to cover all of the exciting action at the Big Reds-Sailors showdown, as well two other important games with playoff implications – Fruitport at Reeths-Puffer and Whitehall at North Muskegon.

In truth, a loss on Friday would be far from the end of the world for Muskegon or Mona Shores. Both teams have already qualified for the state playoffs, and both stand a good chance of making long postseason runs, regardless of the outcome of this game.

The two teams probably won’t run into each other in the playoffs, as they have in the past, because Mona Shores will go in as a Division 2 team while Muskegon, which is usually on the border between Divisions 2 and 3, will almost definitely be in the D3 playoffs this fall.

But when you have two great teams, representing schools just a few miles apart, the stakes are very high. Both squads desperately want to win, to claim the title of local King of the Hill.

That’s a very big deal in a high school football-crazy area like Muskegon.

“This is the first time that both teams will be undefeated going in,” said Mona Shores Coach Matt Koziak. “I told the kids, you deserve all of this, for all of the effort you’ve put in. They are going to have a packed house, they’re going to play a great team, and it’s going to be a great game.

La’darius Jefferson pushes off Kenowa Hills’ No. 7 Brycin Alexander. Photo/Jason Goorman

“There has been no issue getting the kids jacked up for this one.”

Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield agrees that the big matchup will be good for both teams, especially since it’s separated from the playoffs by a week.

“We get to play a team that’s 7-0 and is going to help prepare you for the playoffs,” he said. “But you get to face them in Week 8. You get a chance to recover, instead of jumping right into the playoffs. If we make some mistakes, we’ve got a week to correct them and we’ll still be playing the following week.”

While Fairfield acknowledges the importance of the game, he said he’s not buying all the hype leading up to it.

“To me, it’s just another football game on the schedule,” he said. “It’s Week 8. The series is something like 35-6, so I don’t know if you can call that a rivalry. In my opinion, us and Lowell are more of a rivalry.

“I’m not going to let our kids buy into all the build up for this. (Mona Shores) is undefeated so they’re obviously doing something right. It’s good for the area fans to see two undefeated teams go at it.”

Historically the series is pretty-one sided, and understandably so. Muskegon is the winningest football program in the history of the state, while Mona Shores struggled in football for decades.

The Big Reds lead the overall series 29-7, and beat Mona Shores 14 straight times between 1983 and 2013.

But the series has evened out a great deal in the past few years. Mona Shores, under Koziak’s direction, has quickly evolved into a local and state power. The Sailors earned their stripes against the Big Reds by beating them two years in a row, 48-27 in 2014 and 21-18 in 2015.

D’Anthony Davis finds the end zone for the Sailors. Photo/Jason Goorman

Muskegon bounced back and beat the Sailors 21-10 in a rematch in the playoffs in 2015.

Koziak said the back-to-back regular season wins over Muskegon were a huge psychological lift for his program.

“You can talk about beating Lowell or Muskegon or Rockford, but until it’s done and kids see it, it’s still in the back of their minds, ‘is coach just saying that?'” Koziak said. “To actually do it makes a big difference.

“In 2014, these seniors were freshmen. In 2015 our juniors were freshmen. We beat them both years. These kids saw it, they were part of the program. They say that this can happen, that they can do this.”

Muskegon won 36-15 last year, but the Sailors led after the first half, which was symbolic for them. Mona Shores was fielding a cast of mostly new starters, and Koziak knew it would take a year to get the new kids up to their full potential.

The Sailors finished 5-4 in 2016, but the majority of starters returned this year, and the Sailors are once again winning at full throttle.

“I think we were extremely young, and our kids battled,” Koziak said. “It was more a lack of experience. It was that way all year, when we were just a couple plays away from the outcome being different. Against Muskegon we were up 15-14 at halftime, then they shut us down in the second half.

“We have a lot of kids back with experience this year. We thought we would be really good, and the kids have lived up to expectations, especially with the tough schedule we’ve had.”

Clinton Jefferson Jr. on the Muskegon rush. Photo/Jason Goorman

Both teams feature explosive offenses that hurt opponents on the ground and through the air, as well as extremely stingy defenses.

Muskegon’s running game has enough weapons to give opposing defenders nervous conditions.

All-purpose senior quarterback La’darius Jefferson leads the pack with 800 yards rushing on 79 carries with 10 touchdowns. He’s averaging 10.1 yards per carry.

Another serious threat is running back Lonnie Clark Jr., who has rushed for 538 yards on 37 carries for a 14.5 yard average. He has scored seven touchdowns.

Clinton Jefferson Jr. has gained 403 yards on 29 carries for an average of 13.9 yards per touch. He’s scored seven touchdowns. Davion McCall has 350 yards on 19 carries for an average of 18.4 yards per touch. He has four touchdowns.

In the passing game, La’darius Jefferson has completed 53 of 81 passes for 933 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only two interceptions. He has several favorite receivers, including Clinton Jefferson Jr. (17 catches, 370 yards, seven touchdowns), Mccall (12 catches, 112 yards, one touchdown) and Lamarion Sherrill (nine catches, 162 yards, two touchdowns).

Defensively, linebacker Ali’Vonta Wallace leads the Big Reds with 45 tackles. Eli Jackson has 31, Teandre Evans has 28 and Romel Beasley has 22. Willie Shanks Jr. has picked off five passes.

Mona Shores is led offensively by senior quarterback Tristan Robbins, who has completed 62 of 98 passes for 998 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 361 yards and six touchdowns.

The Sailors are anchored in the backfield by D’Anthony Davis (440 yards on 59 carries and eight touchdowns) and Sincere Dent (479 yards on 54 carries and five touchdowns). The leading receiver is Keyshawn Summerville, who has hauled in 27 receptions for 351 yards and three touchdowns. KeSean Sandifer (130 yards) and James Gilbert (118 yards) are also favorite targets for Robbins.

Mona Shores’ other dangerous receiver, Damari Roberson (12 catches, 235 yards, two touchdowns) tore his ACL earlier in the season and is out for the rest of the year.

Davis is the Sailors’ leading tackler with a total of 60 stops. Jacob Wahlberg has 40, Dent has 38, Colt Stout has 37 and Josh Hill has 34.

Coach Fairfield, who has led Muskegon to a state championship game four of the past five seasons, and has faced many great teams across Michigan, appreciates what the Sailors have accomplished this season.

“What stands out about them is their athleticism, their speed on the edge, with the bubble screens and the jet sweeps,” Fairfield said. “They have a tough-nosed quarterback in Robbins. He may be undersized, but looking at him and seeing him play are too different things. We’re very aware of his toughness and heart.

“The same thing with their one back, Dee Davis. You look at him with a T-shirt on and you think there’s nothing to him, but I tell you what, he’s a scrappy cat. He’ll fight his way for extra yards, which is impressive.

“And defensively, they’ve playing really well. They’ve got some D-1 guys who have some (scholarship) offers. We’ll see how we match up.”

 

 

2 Comments

  1. leon

    October 11, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    GO BIG REDS

  2. Ed Luttrull

    October 12, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Looking forward to listening to the game in Zephyrhills Florida on I heart radio.

    GO BIG RedS

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