By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
All Muskegon kicker Adrian Briseno wanted was a third chance in Friday’s playoff rematch against Lowell.
After missing two previous extra points, Briseno redeemed himself by booting a 27-yard field goal with 1:46 left to lift the Big Reds to a thrilling 15-13 victory in the District 2 championship game at Hackley Stadium.
“It feels really good for getting that chance,” a smiling Briseno said after the trophy presentation. “I’m really happy I could experience it. Everybody was depending on me.”
The victory sends Muskegon (10-1) into Saturday’s regional at top-ranked Midland (11-0), which defeated Traverse City Central 28-16 for its district crown.
The Big Reds rallied for nine points in the fourth quarter to turn back Lowell, which lost a 36-21 decision at Muskegon in Week 4.
After Lowell gained a 13-6 lead on Kanon Dean’s 1-yard run late in the third quarter, Muskegon answered with a fourth quarter that will long be remembered.
Backup quarterback Deshaun Thrower took over for starter Jalen Smith and promptly made his mark. Thrower tossed a 31-yard swing pass to John King and then hurt the Red Arrows with a 46-yard TD strike to Marcus Smith down the left sideline.
“He’s a player with ice in his veins,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said about Thrower, who missed seven weeks this season with a broken foot. “We knew we had to throw the ball.”
Added Thrower: “I just wanted to make plays.”
But Briseno had that PAT kick blocked and the Big Reds still trailed 13-12 with 10:29 remaining.
Muskegon’s swarming defense forced a Lowell punt and the Big Reds started their winning drive with 4:55 left.
Thrower put the Big Red fans into a frenzy when he sprinted 52 yards on the first play. Five plays later and after a timeout, Briseno kicked the game-winning field goal.
Dalvin Walton had a nice snap and Keondre Criag’s hold was perfect for Briseno.
Fairfield said there was no doubt he was going to kick the field goal even after Briseno’s bad luck at the end of the season.
“He missed a couple here and there, but if you want to play next week you have to take that chance,” Fairfield said. “Tonight he nailed it.”
Muskegon’s defense finished off the Red Arrows in the final minute, with William Hunt and Walton each getting sacks and Sherman Hodges breaking up Shurlow’s fourth-down pass.
Lowell made one of its quickest playoff exits under Coach Noel Dean after Friday’s setback.
“We were a tough out tonight,” said Dean, whose team’s ball-control offense limited the Big Reds’ chances. “I wish (Briseno) was kicking an extra point. It was a nice kick in a pressure situation.
“I thought, overall, our defense was tremendous tonight. Our defense carried us all year.”
Fairfield and the Big Reds celebrated with fans afterward.
And seniors like Walton savored their last game at historic Hackley Stadium.
“I’m really excited,” Walton said. “I love Muskegon football and put everything into it. This was the most physical game in my career. I’m proud of my teammates because we got it done.
“I didn’t want this to be my last football game. I want my last football game to be at Ford Field.”
The first half was a slugfest, with Muskegon taking an early 6-0 lead on John King’s 12-yard run in the first quarter.
But Lowell seized the momentum on Shurlow’s 47-yard TD pass to Jacob Stephens with 3:32 left in the first half for a 7-6 lead.
Leading tacklers for the Big Reds were Ronald Jenkins, Ken Finely and Hunt with eight stops apiece.