By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Look closely Saturday at Hackley Stadium, because you won’t see a lot of teams play defense like the Midland Chemics.
The Midland defense has its four down linemen lunge into the line of scrimmage, causing an immediate pile up at the point of attack. The linebackers and defensive backs clean up the mess.
Muskegon Big Reds head coach Shane Fairfield calls the defensive linemen in this scheme ‘Grubs,’ like something is invading your garden. The way to fight it is to stay low, get down on their level.
“You have to root them out,” said Fairfield, whose 10-win team stumbled once, in Week 4 versus Lowell. “The D-scout team is showing it, and we’ve got the (Big Red offensive line) guys working on the crab crawl to counter it. There are things you can do.”
The Chemics defense is led by linebacker Michael Alexander, who could spend a lot of time shadowing Muskegon’s outstanding single caller, senior Deshaun Thrower.
But it’s the Midland (10-1) offense that has taken flight of late, with the Chemics scoring 37 points or more over the last eight games. Fronted by senior QB Tanner Gross and receiver Austen Irrer, the real focal point is running back Will Williams, an 1,800-yard rusher who has ripped off three-consecutive 200-yard performances.
The Big Red defense isn’t too shabby though. Featuring defensive lineman Ken Finley and linebacker Will Hunt, John Hall is also a game-changer in the secondary.
A generous amount of Midland Chemic chemistry on offense will be needed to overcome a locked-in Thrower, who has rushed for 1,400 yards, thrown for 1,100 yards and accounted for 30 touchdowns in all.
The basketball-recruit-cum-quarterback will have plenty of players to target, including slot back Hall, receivers Joeviair Kennedy and Justin Foster, and running back Caleb Washington.
Fairfield said he thinks the Midland defense will dare Thrower to beat it with his arm, and Muskegon will oblige the Chemics whenever the opportunity presents itself.
But Fairfield expressed concern that last year’s 49-21 of the Chemics might lead his 2013 squad to believe in its invincibility.
“The biggest thing is that last year was last year,” he said. “The scoreboard is going to read zeros when we take the field Saturday, so last year’s win doesn’t help us this year. These are two different teams playing in the same game a year later. They’re 10-1 for a reason. They want this trophy just as bad as we want it. “
Win or lose, the Big Red seniors will play their final game at Hackley Stadium. Fairfiald said that makes the regional title game even more special.
“It’s a really emotional thing,” he said. “We had the opportunity to move the game (from Hackley Stadium, where the turf is often saverely trampled this late in the season) to a faster track. They kids said no. They wanted to play here one last time.”
The winner advances to play the winner of the Farmington Hills Harrison/Portage Central regional final.