By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
GRAND RAPIDS – A little inspiration went a long way in carrying to the Muskegon Big Reds to a signature victory on Friday night.
After being blanked in the opening half, the Big Reds came alive and scored 35 second-half points, including 21 in less than a minute, and defeated Grand Rapids Christian 35-13 on the Eagles’ home field.
No doubt, that score will send shockwaves across the state since Christian, the defending Division 2 state champions, is considered to be one of the best teams in the state regardless of class.
But it was the Big Reds who opened some eyes on Friday night before a standing-room-only crowd.
“They played inspired in the second half,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “That’s the key, like I said, it’s 16 and 17 year old kids and whoever has the emotion and the inspiration to play, usually wins the football game.”
After a lackluster first half in which the Big Reds fell behind 6-0, it didn’t take long for Fairfield’s team to come to life.
In the opening half, both teams had trouble moving the ball. There were a few big plays scattered throughout the first 24 minutes, but not much of any sustained drives. GR Christian did push the ball into the end zone after the Big Reds turned the ball over with 2:40 remaining in the half.
Five player later, Malik McLaughlin scampered into the end zone from 2 yards out. That TD came with just 1 minute left on the clock.
And 24 minutes into the game, Muskegon had not gotten on the board.
“We knew were just a play away or an execution or a block away,” Fairfield said. “Eleven of us weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing at the same time. And we knew if we could get all 11 on the play, we’d be good.”
Once play resumed, Muskegon was forced to punt on its opening possession.
Three plays into the Eagles’ opening drive, quarterback Tyler Sigler fumbled and Muskegon’s Jawaun McGough pounced on the loose ball. A sack on first down pushed the ball back 9 yards, but then senior quarterback Deshaun Thrower rushed for 19 yards, followed by Javauntae Thomas with runs of 8 and 3 yards. Thrower rushed for another 11 yards down to the 6. He called his own number on the first and goal play, rushed around the left end, bounced off a possible tackler and surged into the end zone.
Adrian Briseno added the extra point and Muskegon had a 7-6 lead with 7:56 left in the third quarter.
On the Eagles’ first play of their next drive, John Hall stepped in front of a Sigler pass and ran untouched into the end zone. Briseno added the extra point and it was 14-6.
“He actually didn’t see the kid in the flat,” Fairfield said. “And normally we bring the guy off the edge and normally we gave up the flat. That time, we sat a guy and the kids just played inspired.
“Defensively, we knew going in, we have two sophomores and two juniors on the offensive line so we knew our defense has to be the strength of this team,” Fairfield said.
Lightning struck again on the Eagles’ next play when Sigler fumbled and Roland Sharp recovered. Two plays later, from the 16-yard line, Thrower ran up the middle, steamrolled an Eagle defender and found the end zone. With 7:00 left in the third, it was 21-6.
“The only thing you can do is try to go to a safe play that your kid feels comfortable with,” GR Christian coach Don Fellows said of the fateful minute that put his team into a big deficit.
Late in the third quarter, feeling it was do or die, the Eagles opted to go for it on fourth down from its own 23. Sigler was stopped short and Muskegon took over on downs. Thrower again called his own number and ran 23 yards for a touchdown. Another Briseno kick made it 28-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
Thrower rushed in from the 4 with 6:14 to go in the game to make it 35-6.
Sigler connected with Mitch Damstra in the game’s final moments on a 30-yard touchdown pass and that capped the evening’s scoring and made a statement across the state in high school football.
“I hope so, but I hope our kids don’t fall into that trick of who is No. 1 and who is No. 2,” Fairfield said. “Ratings don’t mean anything. Those guys that are making those ratings are sitting at home watching highlights and reading some stats.
“It’s not fair to these kids to have all that pressure on them,” he said. “It’s great to be put in big games like this, because every high school kid should have an experience like this tonight.”