By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

Muskegon Big Red football coach Shane Fairfield just wanted his team to relax and have fun on Friday night against Lowell.

After 32 minutes of hard-hitting football, it was a joyous sideline as the No. 2-ranked Muskegon Big Reds topped the No. 1-ranked Lowell Red Arrows 36-21 in a game that was witnessed by nearly 7,000 spectators at historic Hackley Stadium.

“Every time we’ve played them in the past, it was win or go home,” Fairfield said. “Not this time. I told them to enjoy the football and the atmosphere. Our kids were able to enjoy the moment.”

That was obvious by the handshakes and the hugs on the Big Red sideline as the clock ran down the final seconds.

“We did it,” bellowed one Big Red player as he stomped proudly amongst his teammates.

“Our senior leadership is getting us to where we’re at,” said Fairfield, whose team improved to 4-0. “I’m just driving the ship. This is what high school football is all about.”

That leadership was evident on defense. The Big Reds limited Lowell to 21 rushes for minus-1 yard. The defense also sacked Lowell quarterback Titan Anderson nine times. Lowell did not get a first down until the early minutes of the second quarter.

“Our defense stopped them and our offense was awesome,” Muskegon’s talented defensive end Ronald Jenkins said.

Leading the way offensively was running back Marcus Smith, who rushed nine times for 145 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on runs of 15, 43 and 89 yards. Javontae Langston and John Hall also found the end zone for the Big Reds.

“I had some problems with my calves this week,” said Smith, who sat out his sophomore year at Orchard View with a knee injury and his junior year because he transferred to Muskegon.

But on Friday night, he stepped front and center and delivered three key touchdowns.

On the game’s opening drive, the Big Reds needed just six plays to cover 74 yards and scored on a pitch out to Smith, who darted 15 yards into the end zone.

Lowell had trouble moving the ball and went three-and-out on its first two drives. Jenkins, who led the Big Reds with eight tackles and a sack, batted down a third-down pass by Anderson and forced a Lowell punt.

Muskegon drove right down the field again and scored on a 11-play drive that covered 63 yards. The Big Reds thought they had scored on a third down pass play to Keondre Criag, but the official ruled the pass incomplete in the end zone.

On fourth down, Javontae Langston sprinted around the left end and into the end zone from 27 yards out and Muskegon led 14-0.

That just seemed to wake up the Red Arrows, who drove right down the field on a successful 10-play drive that was culminated on an Anderson pass that receiver Kyler Shurlow leaped high into the air and pulled down for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

Muskegon stayed the course and answered right back on Marcus Smith’s second touchdown of the game. Smith ran left down the line of scrimmage, turned right at the sideline and ran untouched into the end zone from 43 yards out. The kick failed and Muskegon led 20-7.

The Red Arrows took the ensuing kickoff and drove right down the field. Anderson found his favorite receiver, Jeff Houston, three times for 42 yards. Anderson ran the final yard for a touchdown with 3:50 left in the first half.

Muskegon took that 20-14 lead into the half.

The Red Arrows took their only lead of the night very early in the third quarter.

Anderson found a wide open Cody Bieri and he ran untouched 73 yards to the south end zone with several Big Reds in pursuit. Austin Bieri’s extra point made it 21-20 Lowell.

That would be the last time Lowell would score against the Big Reds’ vaunted rush defense.

Muskegons’ second drive of the second half produced yet another touchdown. The drive lasted just seconds as Marcus Smith broke through the line and raced 89 yards for his third score of the night.

The Red Arrows produced just one first down the rest of the way.

But Muskegon wasn’t finished as John Hall scored on a 3-yard run midway through the third quarter and Briseno booted a 22-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining.

Fairfield was doused with ice water by several of his players when the clock ran out and the Big Reds celebrated a huge victory on their thome field.

Jenkins, a transfer from Muskegon Heights, sacked Anderson just once, but he did spend a good share of the evening pressuring the highly-skilled Lowell quarterback into rushing some throws.

“This feels great,” Jenkins said. “But we have to continue to stay humble and keep God first.”

Jenkins said the Heights players who came over were welcomed by the Big Red players and coaches and the chemistry has been good.

“We all knew each other,” Jenkins said. “We played  little league together and it wasn’t as bad as people made it sound.”

John King rushed 12 times for 46 yards and Langston had three rushes for 43 yards. Quarterback Jalen Smith had a solid game by completing 7-of-14 passes for 92 yards and also had several key rushes.

Hodges caught three passes for 49 yards.

Not only did Hall score a touchdown, but he finished with six tackles.

Both teams were hit hard by penalties, especially in the second half. Muskegon had 11 penalties for 95 yards and Lowell was whistled for nine penalties for 100 yards.

Anderson passed for 190 yards for Lowell on 11-for-24 passing.

“We will go back to work,” Lowell coach Noel Dean said. “It’s educational athletics. We’ll go back to work, that’s all we can do.”