This is the second of a two-part series on two remarkable semifinal football games played on Nov. 21, 1992. In this second part, local sports historian Jim Moyes looks at the classic battle between Reeths-Puffer and East Lansing.
By Jim Moyes
Local Sports Journal
Houseman Field was cleared of fans following Montague’s thrilling early-afternoon thrilling upset victory over Battle Creek Pennfield.
Still energized by Montague’s victory, thousands of Muskegon area fans would soon pour back into Houseman to see if Reeths-Puffer could do the same and upset the heavily favored East Lansing Trojans and earn a berth into their school’s first (and would prove to be their only) state title game.
The Rocket faithful were hopeful that Coach Pete Kutches could spin some of the same magic he had earlier deployed at Muskegon Catholic when he was hired before the 1984 football season.
The Rockets had failed to have a winning record in four of the five seasons before Kutches’ arrival, however winning would return quickly for the green and white Rockets.
Kutches, best remembered in our area for his state championships earned in football, also will be remembered by this old timer as a great all-around athlete. So proficient was Kutches as an athlete that he was the center on his high school basketball team although he was only about 5-foot-10..
Kutches was long ago inducted into the Upper Peninsula Hall of Fame for his football and basketball exploits at Escanaba St. Joseph before heading to the University of Wyoming where he starred in football for former Muskegon Catholic coach Mike Corgan.
Kutches had a record at RP that must sound implausible to modern-day followers of Reeths-Puffer football. During his 11 years at the helm, Kutches won 86 games while losing but 20, a winning percentage well above 80 percent.
It was an easy decision to induct Kutches into the prestigious Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 after he retired from R-P.
However, his career got off to somewhat of a rocky start in his first game as the Rocket head coach.
Following a narrow loss in their season opener at home against Mona Shores, my broadcasting partner at the time, the late George Seymour, looked at each other incredulously when a disgruntled parent approached a startled Kutches immediately following the game, clearly expressing his disappointment in his son’s playing time – or lack thereof.
One could not have blamed Kutches in the least if he was having second thoughts about taking on the R-P job. Kutches and the Rockets then lost their next game to his former school, MCC, but that would be the final game RP would lose in 1984 as the Rockets won their last seven games while sweeping all opponents in the Seaway Conference.
Kutches was a coach without an ego, a trait not always prevalent in today’s coaching world. One of his assistants (probably unpaid) was hall of fame coach Roger Chiviarini, who had Pete as his assistant coach at Muskegon and Muskegon Catholic Central. Following Chev’s retirement at Holland West Ottawa, Kutches coaxed his former mentor to join him at R-P.
These two great football minds, along with the rest of this dedicated staff, had a most daunting task ahead of them if they were going to pull off the upset over East Lansing.
It is doubtful if a Pete Kutches coached team ever went into a single game with lower expectations for victory than their game with highly touted East Lansing. After all, during his illustrious coaching career, Pete only lost 25 games.
It was certainly no secret to Kutches and his staff as to the key in beating East Lansing. Stop, or at least contain, Randy Kinder.
The East Lansing whiz was one of the fastest players ever to put on a football uniform in Michigan high school history. So fast was Kinder that the previous spring he nearly won a sprint triple at the Class A state track championships. Kinder won the 100- and 400-meter dashes, and finished a scant one-hundredth of a second behind the first-place winner in the 200-meter dash.
I will never forget the play that Jeff Smith, the wily coach from East Lansing, pulled against South Lyon shortly before halftime in their shutout victory the preceding week.
With just seconds to go before halftime, the Trojans broke the huddle and lined up in the ‘victory formation’ where the quarterback normally takes a knee down after receiving the snap from center and heads for the locker room.
The Trojans took a leisure stroll up to the line of scrimmage and gave an academy award performance in lulling the South Lyon defense to sleep.
However, the quarterback took the snap and quickly pitched the pigskin back to the speedy Kinder. The future Notre Dame star and Green Bay Packer was long gone before the defenders could react and the touchdown sealed victory for the top-ranked Trojans.
Kinder did have a couple of shining moments against the Rockets, but Puffer had the real star – Stacey Starr. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior began a seven-day period that will not be soon forgotten in R-P football history.
The two-way performer led all rushers on this typical gray late November afternoon by rushing for 193 yards on 22 carries, including a pair of second-half touchdowns.
There was no break in the action for Starr when it was time for the Rocket defense to take the field. Starr’s main assignment, as a linebacker coming into the game, was to stop the seemingly unstoppable Kinder, who had rushed for more than 2,200 yards on the season.
Kinder did break away for TD bursts of 69 and 61 yards on two of his 17 carries, but Starr and his mates held the Trojan ace to but 22 yards on his remaining 15 attempts.
The Rockets put it all together with a total team performance that has been unsurpassed in more than 50 years of Rocket football.
The Rockets rushed for 345 yards with DeMarceo Hill, who had totaled more than 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns during the season, adding an additional 95 yards.
Kutches might have disliked passing the football as much as Big Ten football icons Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes, as R-P quarterback Geoff Zietlow had completed a miniscule EIGHT passes in the ENTIRE season heading into the battle with East Lansing.
But it was Zietlow, who teamed up with R-P end Scott Goudie, who came up with the game’s biggest play. With the contest all knotted up 22-22, with but seven minutes remaining in the game, the Rockets were faced with a daunting third and 13.
Zietlow threw a perfect pass to Goudie, who caught the ball in full stride and he was not brought down until tackled at the EL 18-yard line, a 56-yard gain, setting up the game winning touchdown and a date the following Friday afternoon to play Walled Lake Western in the state Class A championship game.
Although the Rockets put 28 points on the board, the Rocket defense played a major part in the victory. Hill was ‘held’ below his season rushing average, but it was DeMarkeo’s defensive interception in the first half that set up the first Rocket tally.
Many of the Rocket players played on both sides of the ball including Rocket rushers Starr, Hill, and blocking fullback Luke Bates. The guardian of the R-P defensive line was one of the lightest of Rocket players, Ron Madison.
Madison might have been one of the smallest players suited up that afternoon on the Houseman gridiron, but there can be little doubt that Madison was the ‘strongest.’ Madison, who overcame a childhood handicap that had him in a virtual body cast for months, would later set world records in power lifting.
It had been a long day for this ‘ole announcer’ from my comfortable perch in the Houseman Field pressbox, but the performances this memorable chilly November afternoon by the Wildcats and Rockets had my adrenalin flowing.
When this Rocket team was honored earlier this season on Oct 5, much of the attention was focused on their state championship miraculous last-second win over Walled Lake Western.
However, that state championship game would have never taken place but for their upset win over East Lansing.
Certainly nothing can top 2008 when our proud area produced four state champions, but as far as semifinal action went over the years, the unlikely doubleheader sweep by Montague and Reeths Puffer 20 years ago will stay with me forever.
Jim Moyes can be reached at [email protected]