By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
DETROIT – An instant classic high school football game did not end in the Muskegon Big Reds’ favor on Friday afternoon at Ford Field.
Big play after big play from both teams kept spectators on the edge of their seats throughout the fourth quarter. And when the final Hail Mary pass from Muskegon backup quarterback Deshaun Thrower fell to the turf, the Birmingham Brother Rice Warriors had a 35-28 victory over the Big Reds and a Division 2 state title.
“We fought right to the end, we moved the ball down the field with no timeouts and had a chance,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “Deshaun did a fine job buying more time and putting it in the end zone and you never know what is going to happen.”
Indeed, it was about the wildest fourth quarter to a high school game as many of the Ford Field spectators will ever witness. A total of 35 points were scored in a fourth quarter in which the Big Reds battled back from seven-point deficits, but could never gain the lead.
In the latter stages of the game, the Warriors went to their bag of tricks to score late touchdowns and keep the Big Reds at arm’s length.
“For the most part, we had every opportunity to win the football game,” Fairfield said. “We are proud for our season and the accomplishments we made.”
With the game tied at 21-all, Brother Rice pulled out its first trick play. A flea flicker resulted in a 77-yard touchdown pass. Then after Muskegon tied it again, a lateral on the ensuing kickoff resulted in a 91-yard touchdown.
“This was a great game and an emotional game,” Fairfield said. “With the emotions and the trick plays, I thought we had them both covered.”
It didn’t look much like it would come down to such late-game dramatics after the Warriors gained the upper hand in the opening half by scoring on their first two drives.
But not before the Big Reds had a strong start to their opening possession.
On the first two plays from scrimmage, Muskegon moved the ball 26 yards on a run by Jalen Smith and a 13 yards by John King Jr. Brother Rice called a quick timeout and four plays later, Muskegon had to punt.
A six-play drive that covered 80 yards and took just 3:22 off the first-quarter clock was highlighted by a 54-yard run by Shon Powell down the left sideline. Three plays later, quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria hit Corey Lacanaria on a 9-yard touchdown pass and just that quick the Warriors had a 7-0 lead.
Brother Rice’s next possession was just as successful. Eleven plays covered 66 yards with quarterback Alex Malzone hitting Joshua Flye for a 9-yard touchdown pass less than 2 minutes into the second quarter.
Muskegon, in need of a touchdown in a big way, responded with an 80-yard drive of its own.
Jalen Smith gained 22 yards on a keeper, hit Marcus Smith on an 11-yard pass and the Big Reds were on their way toward the end zone. E’monte Briggs also had a 13-yard run in the scoring drive.
On a first-and-goal from the 2, Javontae Langston dove into the end zone to put Muskegon on the board. After Adrian Briseno’s extra point, Muskegon was within a score heading into the half.
Muskegon caught a huge break to start the second half when Jordan Waire pounced on the second-half kickoff when the Warriors did not field the bouncing ball. However, that drive came up empty.
Later, Sherman Hodges gave the Big Reds good field position when he scooped up a punt on the 13 and returned it to the 36. That sparked Muskegon, which quickly moved down the field. Jalen Smith rushed for 37 yards followed by Briggs with 21 yards.
Inside the 10, Jalen Smith suffered an ankle injury and had to be replaced by junior Deshaun Thrower, who scored on his second play from 1 yard out. Briseno’s kick tied the game with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
Muskegon averted tragedy early in the fourth quarter on a punt that nearly hit the Big Red return man. Instead, Brother Rice downed the ball at the 4.
As the Big Reds began to emerge away from the shadow of their own goal post, trouble hit when Jalen Smith was hit by Jack Grisan and that caused a fumbled pitch. Shaun Jones, Jr. pounced on the ball and the Warriors had a first down at the Big Reds’ 12. Two plays later, Powell rushed in from the 12 to make it 21-14.
With less than 10 minutes left in the final quarter, Muskegon had some work to do. An 80-yard drive consumed 5 minutes. Big plays on the 15-play drive included a 28-yard pass to John King Jr. and a pass interference penalty on Brother Rice on a fourth-down and 9 play.
The drive ended when Marcus Smith took a pitchout and outran the defense to the corner of the end zone. Briseno’s PAT made it 21-all.
Brother Rice struck quickly on its next drive. Malzone handed off to Brian Walker, who turned and underhanded the ball back to his quarterback. Malzone found Corey Lacanaria wide open for a 77-yard touchdown.
Muskegon was far from finished.
Thrower directed a drive that needed just four plays to cover 77 yards. Another pass interference penalty helped Muskegon, as did a 51-yard pass from Thrower to Keondre Craig, who caught the long pass in stride and stepped into the end zone.
Then came yet another huge play from Brother Rice.
Delano Madison fielded the kickoff at the 5, took several steps forward then launched a long lateral to the opposite side of the field to an awaiting Alessi. He dashed down the field, first up the left sideline, then across the middle of the field and into the end zone.
Muskegon’s next drive stalled at its own 2 and it appeared Brother Rice needed to kneel down just twice and run out the clock.
On the first attempted kneel-down, the ball was fumbled and Muskegon’s Demetrius Brown recovered.
From there, Thrower led the Reds to the Brother Rice 49, but ran out of time when their last long pass fell to the Ford Field turf.
“Jalen got hurt and he was moving the ball real good,” Thrower said. “I didn’t want to slow the tempo. I wanted to go in and make plays.”
Brother Rice was led in rushing by Powell with 12 carries for 97 yards. Malzone completed 8-of-10 passes for 167 yards.
Jalen Smith led Muskegon with 17 rushes for 138 yards. Thrower completed 8-of-17 passes for 143 yards. The Big Reds were led defensively by Thrower, D’vonte Dockery and William Hunt with five tackles each.
“I thought the game was never going to end,” Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa said.
Muskegon finished the season at 12-2.