By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Mona Shores Sailors weren’t just playing for themselves Friday night.
They were playing for hundreds of former Sailors, from 50-plus years of Mona Shores football, who never qualified for the state playoffs.
So as the final seconds ticked away in the Sailors’ 47-26 victory over Zeeland East, the players ran toward the end zone, where a big crowd of former players had gathered to celebrate the moment, and hundreds of fans had joined them.
They Sailors shared hugs and high fives with their predecessors and classmates, and more than a few tears were shed.
The monkey was finally off all of their backs. The Sailors had nailed down their sixth victory, guaranteeing a playoff spot for the first time in school history.
“It felt really good,” said junior quarterback Tyree Jackson, when asked what it was like to connect with the alumni Sailors. “We really played for them. They couldn’t do it, so every snap and every play was for them. We just played our hearts out. We just did what we could do.”
One of the proud former Sailors watching the scene was Matt Koziak, who is also the current football coach.
“You can try to pretend it was just another game, but it was lurking there,” said Koziak, who played varsity for Mona Shores in 1992 and 93. “To have that kind of cloud over this program and this school, and to get rid of it on homecoming, is almost storybook.”
Koziak said he was proud to complete the task that so many of his predecessors had worked hard for.
“I know Coach Rose, Coach Jewett, Coach Fellows, they all wanted it so much,” he said. “The community has wanted it so much. It’s huge for everyone. We’re just ecstatic about it. We’re so proud of these kids.”
Friday’s game was more than a chance for the Sailors to nail down their first playoff berth.
It was also a key matchup in the O-K Black Conference between two teams with one league loss and hopes of winning a championship.
It was expected to be close, but the Sailors dominated from the opening minutes to remain in the title hunt, heading into next week’s showdown with Reeths-Puffer.
Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon are both undefeated in conference play.
The big difference in the game was the explosive Sailor offense, featuring junior quarterback Tyree Jackson, senior wide receiver Asantay Brown and senior slotback Marquon Sargent.
They all had huge nights Friday. Jackson was 7-for-11 passing for 227 yards, including four touchdowns. Sargent had 115 yards receiving, including two touchdown catches, and 79 yards rushing. Brown had 84 yards receiving, including two touchdowns.
Toss in 94 yards of rushing from sophomore fullback Dom Shermeta, and the Sailors were too hot to handle.
“(Jackson) was an incredible leader tonight,” Koziak said. “Sargent and Brown and our offensive line were great. I thought our sophomore fullback was great. It was definitely a team effort.
“The players were actually kind of relaxed this week, which worried me a little bit. But once he had our team dinner tonight, once we went through our walk through, you could tell they were dialed in.”
The Sailor defense was also impressive, dominating the line of scrimmage, pressuring the Zeeland East backfield and generally disrupting the visitors’ attack.
Shermeta had five tackles for the winners, Cody Schneider added four and Noah Dykstra and Michael Smith chipped in three apiece. Dykstra also had an interception.
“I think we had seven three and outs in the first half,” Koziak said. “I thought we kept everything in front of us. I thought we were good on the pass. The coaches did an unbelievable job preparing for an offense that had been explosive.”
The game turned into a Sailor romp early in the first quarter.
Zeeland East took the opening kickoff, but a bad snap over the quarterback’s head, followed by a quarterback sack, left the Chix with fourth and very long at their own one yard line.
The Sailors took the punt at the East 46 and rolled from there. Jackson opened the assault three plays into the possession with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Brown.
Mona Shores scored again on its next possession, with Shermeta capping a nine-play, 90-yard drive with a nine-yard scoring run.
The Sailors made it three touchdowns on three possessions in the first quarter, with Jackson hitting Brown with a 22-yard scoring strike that gave Mona Shores a 19-0 lead.
The onslaught continued with nine minutes left in the second quarter when Jackson connected with Sargent on a 42-yard touchdown pass.
Three minutes later Shermeta capped a five-play, 46-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown burst, giving Mona Shores a 33-0 lead.
Zeeland East got on the scoreboard late in the first half on a 75-yard touchdown run by Corey Westra. The extra point failed, leaving the Sailors with a 33-6 halftime edge.
Sargent kept the momentum going on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, taking a pitch from Jackson and exploding for a 54-yard touchdown run.
Zeeland East scored again with 3:32 left in the third quarter on a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dan Pohanka to a wide open Josh Hart.
The Sailors finished their assault late in the third quarter, when Sargent caught a pass on a crossing pattern and weaved his way through numerous defenders for a 57-yard touchdown.
The visitors added two touchdowns in the final minutes of the contest, but it was too little, too late.