By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – Deshaun Thrower the punter let Reeths-Puffer back in the game.

But Thrower the runner made sure Muskegon won its first conference championship since 2008.

Thrower, the Big Reds’ standout quarterback, also performs punting duties. And his poor punt late in the first half, which ended up covering three yards, allowed Reeths-Puffer to tie Friday’s O-K Black Conference showdown at halftime.

But Thrower wasn’t finished. He turned in touchdown runs of 52 and six yards in the second half to help Muskegon nail down a 20-7 victory and the O-K Black title before a huge crowd at Hackley Stadium.

Thrower finished with 163 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the night. He also broke Muskegon’s single-season rushing record, ending the regular season with 1,203 yards, which beat Ashton Leggett’s mark of 1,135 yards in 2006.

Muskegon finished the regular season 8-1 overall and undefeated in the conference. Reeths-Puffer finished 7-2 with one league loss. Both teams will advance to the state playoffs, which begin next weekend.

“It’s an honor,” Thrower said about the school record. “There have been a lot of great players who have come through here. My linemen and my teammates have set me up to make plays all season. I couldn’t do it all by myself.

“We expected to come in and beat them. The first half we played bad. The second half we kept our blocks and we executed. We haven’t won a conference championship in a long time. Now it’s the state championship that we want.”

For all of their success in recent years, the Big Reds had not been the talk of the town this season. Much of the attention went to Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer, two teams that broke through with winning seasons for the first time in years.

But the Big Reds proved they’re still the best In Muskegon County, and the best in the O-K Black, by beating Mona Shores earlier in the season and Reeths-Puffer Friday night.

It was Muskegon’s first conference title since 2008, when they competed in the O-K Red Conference.

“In Muskegon County we want to be kings of the hill,” said Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield.”Sometimes it’s hard for our kids. Other teams have nothing to lose. They circle us on the calendar. Each week we have to fight for our lives.

“Our kids are supposed to be kings of the hill and everybody tries to knock us off. It’s a tribute to our kids that we have been able to stay at this level for so long.”

Muskegon survived a shaky first half against the Rockets.

The Big Reds coughed up a fumble at their own 24-yard line midway through the first quarter, giving Reeths-Puffer a golden opportunity to strike first.

But Muskegon’s Alezay Coleman picked off a Rocket pass at the 6-yard line and returned it all the way to the Reeths-Puffer 26.

Thrower scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown four plays later, and the extra point gave the Big Reds a 7-0 lead.

The Rocket defense got tough after that, stopping Muskegon on downs at the R-P three-yard line, and forcing the Big Reds to punt at the R-P 33.

Thrower’s short punt came with just over a minute left in the first half, giving Reeths-Puffer the ball at the Muskegon 40.

Reeths-Puffer quarterback Garrett Blanshine connected with Dereko Riley for a 40-yard scoring pass on the next play, tying the game 7-7 at halftime.

Muskegon’s Javon Jackson returned a punt 36 yards midway through the third quarter, giving the Big Reds the ball at their own 48. Thrower faked a hand off on the next play and broke loose down the left sideline for a 52-yard touchdown run.

The extra point failed, leaving Muskegon on top 13-7.

The Big Reds sealed with win with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter.

Jackson had a 20-yard run to help keep the drive alive. Javauntae Thomas added a 30-yard reception on a screen pass from Thrower.

Thrower capped off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes left in the game.

Reeths-Puffer drove to the Muskegon 24 with two minutes remaining, before Coleman picked off his second pass of the game.

Thomas finished with 65 yards rushing on 13 carries for Muskegon.

Kenny Finley paced the Big Red defense with nine tackles. Jordan Ware and John Hall added seven apiece.

“We put ourselves in some holes,” Fairfield said. “These are 16- and 17-year-old kids playing these big games. As adults we get nervous. Can you imagine being that age and playing with all the media? Our kids made some mistakes early but we made some adjustments at halftime and won the football game.”

Julian Munday led Reeths-Puffer with 51 yards rushing while Corey Plichta added 47.

Leading tacklers for the Rockets were Josh Buie with nine and DeAngelo Williams with eight.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” said Reeths-Puffer Coach Kyle Jewett, when asked about Thrower. “Our defense played well, but we gave up some big plays, which we didn’t plan on doing. We didn’t play a complete game. We just made too many mistakes.

“We didn’t block, pass or run well enough.

“These kids will put in another good week of practice. We don’t get down or stay down. We’ll be back up. We’re looking forward to next week, regardless of who we play.”