By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
The first-year Muskegon Mustangs are heading for the championship game of the Great Midwest Football League after a nail-biting 42-34 victory over the defending champion Detroit Ravens on Saturday night.
The game was played at Oakridge High School.
It was a rollercoaster of emotion (and even a little trash talking) between two teams vying for a spot in the title game on Sept. 14 in Chicago. Muskegon is now 11-2 and the Detroit Ravens finished the season 8-5.
With Muskegon clinging to a 35-34 lead with 7:43 to go, Evest Briggs came up huge for the Mustangs. The Fruitport High School graduate stepped in front of a pass and dashed 82 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that gave the hosts an eight-point lead.
“I just sat on it,” Briggs said. “They threw it like four times so I just sat on it. He threw it like 4-5 times so I just sat on the next one. I got it, but I was dead after that.”
That touchdown proved to be the final score on an evening when both teams came up with huge, and strange plays, throughout the evening.
“We expected it to be a crazy game,” Mustang coach Brad Haney said. “But, it was a little more crazy than I wanted it to be, but at the end of the day, we won, so I’m happy.”
After the Ravens romped right down the field on its opening drive, the Mustangs answered back with 21 straight points to take a 21-7 lead.
DeMonte Collins caught a 47-yard pass from Aaron James, Maurice Sherrill had an 11-yard touchdown run and Collins caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from James. Jose Diaz added the extra point on each score and Muskegon led 21-7.
But the Ravens fought back in the second quarter. Six minutes to the quarter, Michael Akrawi, the Ravens’ quarterback, found Harvey Brown in the end zone. That 2-yard touchdown pass came after the ball was tipped on its way into Brown’s hands.
Muskegon took its final possession of the first half with 1:20 remaining and moved down to within field goal range. Diaz lined up for a 49-yard field goal, but the attempt was blocked by Jeffrey Wallace. Anthony Hobbs scooped up the loose ball and ran down the left sideline as the clock expired. As Hobbs was about to be tackled, he flipped the ball back to teammate Terrance Sims, who ran the ball into the end zone from 20 yards out.
Instead of a possible 10-point lead heading into the half, the game was tied at 21-all.
The Mustangs regained the lead 6 minutes into the third quarter when Karey Morrow-Bey picked up a fumble and ran it in from 5 yards out. Diaz added another PAT and it was 28-21.
A 95-yard drive by the Ravens culminated on a 2-yard run by Wyatt Jones and with the extra point, the game was knotted at 28-all.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Mustang return man had the ball stripped by Wallace and the Raven special teams player dashed untouched into the end zone. Two touchdowns in 13 seconds gave Detroit a 34-28 lead. The Ravens did miss the extra point.
Muskegon took possession on its own 18 on its next drive and methodically moved down the field. The drive took 16 plays and used the final minutes of the third quarter and the first 3 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter. It ended when Eric James scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. Diaz added the extra point.
Detroit’s next drive appeared to stall just inside Mustang territory, but a penalty on a fourth down play kept the Ravens on possession of the ball. That’s when Briggs stepped in front of an Akrawi pass and ran 82 yards for the score.
The Mustang defense halted the Ravens final two drives and the celebration began on the home side of the field.
“That’s football, you have to play every play every snap, every quarter,” Haney said. “We keep telling them that, and unfortunately a few things didn’t go our way, but at the end of the day, we fought harder than they did and because of that, we are the conference champs.”