By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
GRAND HAVEN – Sure, it’s nice to be good.
But, admitted Muskegon head varsity football coach Shane Fairfield Friday night after his Big Reds dismantled host Grand Haven, it sure as heck doesn’t hurt to be a little lucky as well.
The Big Reds proved to be both good and lucky in their resounding season opening 41-7 victory over the Bucs, while at the same time laying the groundwork for perhaps another run at a state title.
“It’s always better to be lucky than good,” said Fairfield from the Bucs’ field following the game, the sound of the Muskegon faithful loudly cheering behind his shoulder. “You always hear me talk about what it takes to win games. Sure we need to be good and execute our stuff, but you have to be lucky (too). The football isn’t round and stuff happens. So I guess it’s better to be aggressive and be on the other end (of luck) than just sit around and just let things happen and then say to other teams, ‘Hey, that’s luck.’ Luck we define as when preparation meets opportunity.”
The Big Reds’ first score of the night was a healthy combination of both. In the midst of an eight play, 60 yard game-opening drive, senior QB Deshaun Thrower felt the pocket collapsing and prepared to take off. Scrambling, Thrower was hit from the side, fumbled, and by sheer luck, junior running back Caleb Washington was the happy recipient of the bouncing ball, which bounded up into his waiting hands. From there, Washington raced the remaining 20 yards, down the east sideline, for the score.
Kicker Adrian Briseno knocked home the PAT to make it 7-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Briseno failed to connect from 37 yards out on the Big Reds’ next drive, but the visitors wouldn’t have long to wait before Lady Luck once again shown her face.
The next two Muskegon scores happened in quick succession, the first coming on a critical Buc miscue. Deep in Buc territory, Grand Haven’s long snapper nearly sent the snap over punter Ford Butler’s head, forcing Butler, after collecting the nearly arrant ball, to be tackled at his team’s own three yard line.
One play – and three seconds – later, Thrower scampered in for the score to make it, following Briseno’s successful PAT, 14-0.
Of course in competitive games, luck is a two-way street.
“We go and sack their quarterback, he fumbles the ball, and their running back just happens to be standing there, picks it up and scores a touchdown,” said an exaserbated Bucs’ head coach Mike Farley. “That was a third down, would have put us in a great situation. Then we have the snap over the punter’s head. So now we’re down 14-nothing.”
Things would only get worse for the Bucs as, less than a minute later, following a Buc punt, Thrower launched a deep ball over the middle to senior receiver Tavon Jackson, who caught it and rumbled the rest of the way for the 50-yard TD.
Muskegon led 21-0 at the break.
The Big Red’s opened the second half with an 80-play scoring drive that settled the critics once and for all regarding Thrower’s running ability. Known as having a big arm, many doubted whether the Thrower-led Big Red offense could match that of a year ago, when the fleet-footed Jalen Smith helped pilot the team to the state final game. But Thrower put most of that doubt to rest when he completed the eight-play drive with a spectacular 58-yard scoring run around right end to give the Big Reds the 28-0 lead.
And the good luck wasn’t over for Muskegon. Late in the third quarter, Grand Haven quarterback Karl Johnson darted a pass between two Muskegon defenders, seniors John Hall and Jordan Waire. The pass bounced off Hall, then off Waire, and then back into Hall’s arms, who then took the pick 40 yards for the score.
Hall, who had a monster night with six solo tackles, including four tackles-for-loss and a sack, as well as the interception, said he was as shocked as anyone the ball ended up in his hands and he in the end zone.
“It was very unbelievable,” said Hall, who seemed surprised with what happened on the play a full hour later. “I’m just happy (Waire) was there to have my back, or it wouldn’t have been a pick. It could have been a (Grand Haven) catch and a touchdown. You have to trust your teammates to be in that position. It ended up working out for us.”
On the Bucs’ subsequent possession, finally some luck swung Grand Haven’s way. On second down, Johnson executed perfectly a shovel pass into the teeth of the rushing Big Red defense to junior running back Chase Pego, who then took it right up the gut and past the flowing defenders 69 yards for the host’s lone score of the night.
Reserve Big Red quarterback Shawn Pfenning capped the scoring at the 5:47 mark of the fourth with a 22-yard scamper around left end to provide the final result.
“Muskegon’s a heck of a football team,” said Farley. “They are very methodical offensively, very physical on both sides of the football. We ran into a very good football team tonight.
“I was happy that we kept fighting,” added Farley. “I was happy that the effort was there.”
As explosive as Muskegon’s offense proved to be, Fairfield said it was his defense of which he was most proud.
“Defensively, I was happy with our secondary,” said Fairfield, whose defense allowed just 134 total yards. “We’ve always been suspect there. We jumped the slant, we stayed over the top, and we got good pressure from our down four. Jalvin Walker, Kenny Finley, Demetrius Sims, Jacob Sims, those four guys got pressure all night.”
Thrower finished with 8-for-13 passing for 110 yards and a score, while also leading all rushers with 90 yards on 13 carries and two scores. Washington added 66 yards on 10 carries and a score, with Javauntae Thomas adding 47 yards on 12 carries.
Hall led the receivers with four catches (32 yards) and Tavon Jackson had 63 yards on two catches.
For Grand Haven, Johnson finished with 81 yards on 2-for-9 passing, with Luke Larkin completing seven passes for 64 yards in a reserve role. Pego’s big catch led the Buc receivers, while Joe Sepeshy led the Buc ground game with 18 yards on three carries.
Defensively, Grand Haven’s Dakota Juarez led all defenders with 12 tackles, and Isaak Newhouse had eight stops in the loss.