Mike Belmonte

By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal

It is apparent the North Muskegon football team has turned the corner.

A week after breaking an 11-game losing streak with a win over Hart, the Norsemen showed plenty of resilience in its West Michigan Conference game against host Whitehall on Friday night.

North Muskegon rallied from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to pull out a thrilling 25-21 win.

“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” North Muskegon coach Mike Belmonte said. “But, with our senior leadership, they didn’t crumble and got back up and fought. I don’t think they (Whitehall) expected that.”

Even after the Norsemen had taken the lead on Nick Duplissis’ 19-yard touchdown run with 4:36 left in the third quarter, it looked as if Whitehall would still pull out the win.

The Vikings marched to the North Muskegon 7-yard line with 1:30 left, but on a fourth and one a bad snap from center sailed over Whitehall quarterback Steven Sika’s head and Jack Gautraud recovered the ball to secure the win for the Norsemen.

“I knew we would come back,” said North Muskegon defensive leader Christian Brower. “We came out just too hyped up. We just needed to calm down.”

Although Whitehall’s final play may have been the game’s decisive moment, North Muskegon’s final play of the second quarter was nearly as big.

Facing a third down from the Whitehall 17-yard line, Anderson found Sam Powell in the corner of the end zone for a score with 2 seconds remaining in the half. That cut the Whitehall lead to 21-19.

“That last play before halftime really hurt us,” Whitehall co-coach Brent Sandee said. “That play got them right back in the game.”

It was the third time in the opening half that the 6-foot-3 Powell used his size to his advantage against the Vikings.

“On that one before the half, Adrian saw me and I went up and got it,” said Powell, who finished with four catches for 76 yards. “I gave up a couple of big plays on defense and I had something to prove.”

The Vikings had no answer for the lanky Powell and Anderson recognized that early on.

“They were playing cover-4, leaving Sam alone on the outside,” Anderson said. “Sam has the best hands on the team and I was going to throw it to him all day long.”

Anderson and Powell hooked up for NM’s first score early in the second quarter on an 18-yard scoring strike that cut Whitehall’s lead to 14-6.

On NM’s next possession, North Muskegon drove 50 yards on five plays culminating in Anderson’s 32-yard TD pass to Powell.

“We went over some of those pass plays,” Powell said. “But, the coaches called some different ones as well and they worked.”

Even after Whitehall took a 21-12 lead on Steven Sika’s 2-yard run with 1:02 left in the second quarter, the Norsemen were not content on running out the clock.

Anderson completed three straight passes before connecting with Powell on the scoring strike just before halftime.

“Powell made five or six plays tonight,” Belmonte said. “We knew he could do it, but it’s the first time he has shown it.”

It looked early on as the Vikings would run away from North Muskegon, taking a quick 14-0 lead on a night the 1962 undefeated Whitehall football team was honored at halftime.

The Vikings needed only four plays to cover 80 yards. It ended on an 8-yard pass from quarterback Joe Sika to his twin brother, Steven Sika.

The twins hooked up again on Whitehall’s second possession as Joe hit Steven on a 29-yard scoring strike.

It looked at that point like the Vikings would be in cruise control the rest of the way, but NM would only allow one more score.

“We watched them on tape and I don’t think they knew they were as good as they were,” Sandee said. “They have have some very good athletes on their team.”

Anderson, who finished 4-of-8 for 134 yards passing, called it the best game NM has played in two years.

“I think this was, by far, the best effort for a whole game we have played in probably two years,” Anderson said. “The coaches said it would be a dogfight the whole time and we never gave up.”

Steve Sika led Whitehall with seven carries for 88 yards and Antwan Burks added 82 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Steven Sika was 6-of-12 passing for 92 yards and Joe Sika caught three passes for 50 yards.