Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal

The North Muskegon football team served notice on Friday that they are definitely in the mix for the West Michigan Conference championship.

The Norsemen improved to 5-1 on the season and 4-1 in the WMC with a thrilling 29-27 win over Ravenna in front of a large homecoming crowd at Fred Jacks Field.

The win propels the Norsemen into a tie for second place with Oakridge, which lost to first-place Shelby 22-19 on Friday.

Both North Muskegon and Oakridge trail the Tigers, who improved to 5-0 in the WMC.

The Norse will look to keep pace next week when they host Montague before finishing its conference slate with a possible showdown game at Shelby.

Aaron Rahrig’s 27-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the final quarter proved to be the winning points for North Muskegon in a game that saw plenty of big plays.

“We had to kick the field goal at that point,” said North Muskegon coach Mike Belmonte. “We work every day on field goals in practice and he made a great kick. Give credit to holder Eric Bleakley and snapper Justin Fairfield as they executed the snap and hold and Aaron made a good kick.”

It was no surprise that the well-played game would come down to nearly the last possession.

“I expected a good game as Dave Smith always has a well-coached team,” Belmonte said of Ravenna. “They showed us some things we were not expecting, but we were able to come back a couple of times.”

The game featured five scoring plays of at least 30 yards.

North Muskegon drew first blood in the first quarter  when freshmen Riley Fairfield took a pass over the middle from quarterback Brody Scott and raced 42 yards for a score.

The Bulldogs responded in quick fashion, moving 58 yards in five plays to knot the score at 7-7. Jacob Sied completed the drive with a 16-yard TD pass to David Thompson.

Ravenna looked as if it took the lead on its next possession, but an apparent touchdown was called back on a penalty and the Norse took advantage.

The Norse took a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter on a lengthy drive that culminated in Logan Waller’s 3-yard scoring run.

Ravenna quickly responded with a 65-yard drive of its own and tied the score just before halftime when Nick Anderson caught a 2-yard TD pass from Sied.

The Bulldogs broke the 14-14 halftime tie when Thompson took a slant pass and raced 70 yards for a score with 2:32 left in the third quarter.

But, North Muskegon quickly returned the favor as Waller raced 61 yards for a score on the first play after the kickoff. North Muskegon missed the extra point, leaving the Norse with a 21-20 edge.

“That was really a big score as they kind of punched us in the mouth with that long play and we came back with one of our own,” Belmonte said.

North Muskegon used another big play to regain the lead with 10:44 left in the final quarter.

Holden Vanderweele broke around the right end side and outraced the Ravenna defense for a 68-yard TD. A failed extra point pass left North Muskegon with a 26-21 edge.

The Bulldogs traveled 76 yards on their next possession to regain the lead at 27-26. Thompson finished off the drive on a 31-yard end around run.

The Norsemen took over the ball at their own 29 with 6:46 left and drove to the Bulldogs 10-yard line before stalling.

On a fourth and six from Ravenna’s 10-yard line, Belmonte called on Rahrig and he converted the game-winning field goal.

“This is his first year playing football and he has really worked on his kicking,” Belmonte said. “I had total confidence in Aaron at that point.”

Rahrig’s kick gave NM the win, but the Norsemen received several other good performances in their second consecutive win over the Bulldogs.

Scott was 5-of-9 passing for 89 yards, while Waller rushed for 142 yards on 17 carries and Vanderweele added 82 yards on the ground.

“We have several good running backs,” Belmonte said. “I thought they all ran well and the line did a good job opening up some holes.”

Vernonell Smith led the NM defense with 12 tackles, Mitchell Edick added eight stops and Christian Ramirez made seven tackles and intercepted a pass.

“We have put ourselves in a good position, but we have Montague next week and that is all we are thinking about right now,” Belmonte said.

The Bulldogs dropped to 2-4 on the season with games remaining against Shelby, Whitehall and Tri-County.