By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – It’s true, the Middleton Fulton Pirates have never faced the Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders on the gridiron. But that doesn’t mean the two teams have never faced off in an important game.
The only thing is, that game was basketball.
The two schools met in 2012, in the Class D regional basketball finals, with the unranked Crusaders pulling off the stunning 48-43 upset to advance to the state quarterfinals.
And yet, if the Pirates are hoping to get some payback Friday night in the opening round of the playoffs, they’d better bring something better than the box-and-1 defense or the pick-and-roll.
The 5-4 Pirates barely even made it into the playoffs this season, getting wins over Saranac, Dansville, and Burton Bendle in the final three weeks of the season after a 2-4 start.
It was because of that late flourish that first-year Catholic head coach Steve Czerwon and staff hadn’t even figured on facing the Pirates.
“They kind of came out of nowhere,” said Czerwon, whose team sports a 7-2 record. “We’ve never played them before but we’ve been studying some film, making a plan.”
The Crusaders, long known as a running team, will, for the second week in a row, face a team that likewise does most of its business on the ground. At last week’s regular-season finale, MCC dismantled another running team, Traverse City St. Francis, 42-0. Czerwon said Fulton uses a lot of misdirection plays hoping to catch hard-flowing teams like the Crusaders out of position.
Leading the Pirate ground game is senior back Tyler Spade, who collected several 100-yard efforts across the past two years. Sophomore Jacob Litwiller is slated to be the Pirates’ signal caller.
Although Czerwon believed his team would make it into the playoffs with a 5-4 record (MCC’s strength of schedule is among the toughest of any small school in the state), getting those final two wins was crucial to the team’s plan of hosting at least one home playoff game. As the point-system now stands, the Crusaders have a chance to host both district games.
“I know the team is really excited to get these home playoff games,” said Czerwon. “It’s a nice bonus for them to play these games in front of a home crowd.”
The fans should have plenty to cheer about. Czerwon confirmed Tuesday that his offense’s 383 points is a regular season school record. Leading the way is senior running back Alex Lewandoski, a small but bruising runner who has a nose for first downs. Junior Nick Holt has also been a force under center as well, while junior scat back Tommy Scott test the edges of even the most-stout defenses.
The defense, led by linemen Michael Caughey, Jaeden MacPherson, Jacob Holt and Ian Tyler, held St. Francis to just one first down and just nine total net yards of offense.
When it is mentioned to Czerwon that the coach he replaced, Mike Holmes, finished his first season with a 3-6 record – before going on to lead MCC to six state titles – he is quick to point out that his team wasn’t going to let a losing season happen.
“It’s all about expectations,” said Czerwon. “That’s been here for awhile. We expected to make the playoffs, and it wasn’t something we ever doubted. That’s what we do here.”