By Dave Tomczak
Local Sports Journal

ZEELAND – The showdown for the OK Black Conference between two undefeated teams in Zeeland lived up to the hype Friday night.
Unfortunately for Muskegon, they came up 2 points and 2 yards short of the victory.

Host Zeeland East stopped the Big Reds short on a 2-point conversion with a minute left to earn the OK Black Conference title with a 40-39 win.

The Chix watched Muskegon battle back time and time again all night, but after John King’s 33 yard touchdown run pulled the Big Reds within 40-39, their defense stuffed Muskegon quarterback Jalen Smith on the conversion attempt.

“We’ve been riding behind our senior offensive line all season,” Big Reds coach Shane Fairfield said. “We were going to win it (right then).”

Zeeland East, the No. 1 team in Division 3, finishes the regular season at 9-0 and 5-0 in conference, while Muskegon, the top team in Division 2, falls to 8-1, 4-1.

The Big Reds struggled early on, allowing the Chix to take a 12-0 lead early in the first quarter.

But Muskegon scored the next two touchdowns, Marcus Smith pulling in a 59-yard TD pass from Jalen Smith and King rushing in from 23-yards out, for a 13-12 lead after one.

From that point on, the Big Reds would only score after Zeeland East did, including a King’s 34 yard score to give Muskegon a 20-18 lead late in the second.

But the Chix scored again before the half and lead 25-20 at the break.

“We knew that all we needed was a stop and a score to take the lead at the half,” Fairfield said. “And we’d get the ball to start the second half and go up two scores, but we couldn’t get that stop.”

Smith would score from 5 yards out on the Big Reds’ opening drive of the second half to go up 27-25, but Zeeland East answered.

King’s third TD, from 4 yards out in the fourth, made it 33-32 for Muskegon, but once again the Chix would find the end zone and put the pressure on the visitors to score.

With six minutes remaining, the Big Reds’ running attack worked its way down the field, and with 1:02 remaining, King broke loose from 33 yards out, leaving it up to the coaching staff to decide to settle for overtime or go for two.

“I don’t blame them, I knew they’d go for two,” Chix coach Derek Pennington said. “They’re quick around the edges (offensively) or they can pop one up the middle on you.”

Smith took the snap and was barely able to get back to the line of scrimmage before the Chix defense had him.

It was a difficult end for a Big Red team that finished the night with 429 yards of rushing offense.

“We finished 8-1 and we had a chance to win (our final game) at the end,” Fairfield said. “That’s all you can ask.”

King led Muskegon with 227 yards rushing on 26 carries, Smith added 111 on 18 carries and was just 3-of-5 passing for 65 yards.

Ronald Jenkins led the Big Reds defense with nine tackles, John Hall finished with eight and King had seven.