By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal
There was no letdown from the Muskegon Big Reds on Friday night in their game against crosstown foe Reeths-Puffer.
Coming off four straight tough games, the top-ranked Big Reds opened their O-K Black Conference schedule with a convincing 56-18 win over the host Rockets.
Muskegon quarterback Jalen Smith ran for three scores and passed for two others to lead Muskegon, which was coming off a big win against Lowell last week.
“We knew this could have been a trap game,” Smith said. “We had a big win last week, but we treat every game like it’s a big game and that showed tonight.”
It was the first game between the crosstown rivals since 2007 when Muskegon earned a 51-13 victory over the Rockets.
“It wasn’t exactly a pretty game, but we came out of it in good shape,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “We were on an emotional roller coaster this week after last week’s win. Hats off to Reeths-Puffer – they are a much improved team.”
The Rockets kept it close for a half, trailing 27-12, but Smith took over in the third quarter as the Big Reds pulled away.
Smith scored on runs of 54 and 55 yards on Muskegon’s first third-quarter possessions and Emonte Briggs added a 17-yard run as Muskegon built a 49-18 lead after three quarters.
“It was good to see Jalen really break out for us tonight,” Fairfield said. “It was good to see him rush for a touchdown as we haven’t had a quarterback do that in a long time.”
Smith finished with 159 yards rushing on 11 carries and completed 5-of-9 passes for 143 yards.
“We were just going off what Reeths-Puffer was giving us,” Smith said. “I thought both sides of our offensive line did a great job for us.”
The Big Reds needed only four plays to cover 75 yards on its opening drive as John King scored on a 33-yard touchdown run.
The Rockets quickly answered as Johndries Betts-Render broke free for a 37-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 7-6, but that would be the smallest margin the Big Reds led by the rest of the night.
Smith connected with Sherman Hodges on a 10-yard pass just before the end of the first quarter and they made it 21-6 early in the second quarter on a 7-yard run by Smith.
Smith would hit Marcus Smith on a 48-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 27-6 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Betts-Render’s second scoring run from a yard out cut the Muskegon to 27-12 with 1:36 left before halftime and the Rockets recovered a Muskegon fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but couldn’t capitalize on the turnover.
“We had a couple of critical plays that didn’t go our way after the fumble recovery,” Reeths-Puffer coach Kyle Jewett said. “It might have been different if we could have capitalized on those right before halftime.”
Marcus Smith closed out the scoring for the Big Reds with a 9-yard touchdown run in the final quarter.
The Big Reds outgained Reeths-Puffer 505-196 with 474 yards coming on the ground.
King added 117 yards rushing on 14 carries for Muskegon and Javontae Langston and Marcus Smith added 55 and 44 yards rushing, respectively.
Marcus Smith led the Big Red receivers with three catches for 88 yards and Keondre Craig had one catch for 45 yards.
Defensively Muskegon was led by Kenneth Finley with nine tackles and William Hunt with eight tackles and two sacks.
“We shouldn’t have any problem getting the kids ready for next week against Mona Shores,” Fairfield said. “They are 4-1 and it sets up a big game and we are looking forward to them coming to our place.”
The Rockets, who will look to rebound next week against Kenowa Hills, were led by Betts-Render, who finished with three touchdown runs and 108 yards rushing.
Kyle Kobe caught two passes for 27 yards for the Rockets and the R-P defense was led by Tyler Stenberg and Joshua Buie with six tackles each.
“It was a great opportunity to see where our program’s at by playing Muskegon,” Jewett said. “We are a young team who needs experience, but we are getting better every week.”