Muskegon sails past Kenowa Hills 34-21, faces rematch with Lowell in next round

By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

The Muskegon Big Reds came into Friday night’s first-round playoff game against Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills with several things on their minds.

Most prominently, the Big Reds were still smarting after last week’s one-point  loss to Zeeland East, in a contest that determined the OK Black Conference title and ended Muskegon’s eight-game win streak.

But while Zeeland East was getting shellacked by rival Zeeland West in its playoff game, Muskegon  was busy dismantling the Knights and came away with the 34-21 victory.

The Big Reds now move on to face Lowell, a team that ended Muskegon’s season one year ago.

Muskegon, which downed Kenowa Hills 45-7 in Week 7, didn’t look as sharp Friday as that first meeting, but Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield was satisfied with the way his team responded after the heartbreaking Zeeland East loss.

“I’m always happy with a win,” said Fairfield. “Like I’ve said before, our goal has always been to win a (conference) championship, but it was more important to win tonight and keep things going in the playoffs. We weren’t happy to lose last week and we weren’t going to be happy with a loss tonight.”

Senior running back John King had a career night on both sides of the ball, piling up a game-high 196 yards on 23 carries and two scores, while also finishing with four tackles and nabbing two interceptions.

For King, the Big Reds’ earlier victory over the Knights was a thing of the past.

“It was a great game,” said King. “We played big. It was win or go home so we had to seize the opportunity that we had.”

Yet, it didn’t look at first like the Big Reds were going to seize anything, but an early end of the season, allowing the visitors an 11 play, 80-yard drive to put up the contest’s first score.

Benefiting from a Big Red roughing-the-passer penalty which gave the Knights new life at Muskegon’s 30, Kenowa Hills’ QB Cody Ritsema connected with receiver Dylan Smith on the next play to make it 7-0.

“We came out a little flat, I think,” said King. “They were playing with a lot of heart.”

And, eventually, so would the Big Reds.

Set up by an interception from Deshaun Thrower, the hosts took their first drive of the second quarter a mere 28 yards to pay dirt, when senior QB Jalen Smith blasted in from 3 yards away to make it, following kicker Adrian Briseno’s successful PAT, 7-7.

Muskegon added another score just three minutes later. This time set up with a King interception, Smith capped a six-play drive with a one-yard run.

The score remained 14-7 through halftime.

Things worked to perfection in the Big Reds’ first drive of the second half. Completing a 10 play, 80-yard drive despite two penalties, King scampered in from 14 yards out to make it 21-7.

Teammate D’vonte Dockery picked off Ritsema less than a minute later to set up a 6-yard King TD run  to put up the home team 28-7.

The Knights utilized some trickery to cut the lead in half when Kenowa Hills’ Smith launched a halfback pass to Mike Pickart from 12 yards out to make it 28-14.

King added a 2-yard score in the fourth for Muskegon, and the Knights’ Smith responded on a 14-yard pass from Ritsema.

King said he hasn’t had an interception since JV football.

Now, with Kenowa Hills successfully dispatched, the Big Reds’ thoughts turn to Lowell, a team Muskegon beat 36-21 in Week 4.

“It’s going to be a knock down, drag out fight,” said Fairfield regarding the rematch with Lowell. “It’s going to be an ice bath kind of night for us. They’re going to swing and we’re going to swing and the best team is going to end up representing the west side of the state. The good thing is this year out of the last three, the game is here. So we’re happy about that.”

“Everybody knows how well Lowell plays in the playoffs,” added QB Jalen Smith. “So, we just got to bring it.”

Along with King’s nearly 200-yard rushing effort, Smith added 62 yards on 17 carries, helping the Big Reds to over 280 yards on the ground. Smith added 61 yards through the air on 3-for-9 passing, with Marcus Smith leading receiving corps with 24 yards.

The Big Red defensive unit, which limited the Knights to just 49 rushing yards, was led by William Hunt with seven tackles. Ronald Jenkins had six tackles and Dalvin Walton added five stops in the win.


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