By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – When you hear that Muskegon Catholic Central (11-2) will face Beal City (13-0) in the Division 8 state title game this Friday morning at Ford Field, offensive displays probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Yes, the Muskegon Catholic Crusaders have faced plenty of potent offenses this season; Mona Shores, New Lothrop, just to name a few. But perhaps none have been as balanced as the Beal City Aggies’, which features as many as six different running backs, one, Ty Rollin (the Aggies’ career rushing leader) who’s rushed for over 1,200 yards and 23 TDs; a quarterback, Kurt Gross, who has passed for over 1,400 yards and 20 scores; and a receiver, Ryan Tilmann, who has hauled in 12 scores on over 700 receiving yards.
In fact, Beal City’s offense has been so successful, the team needs to score 49 points in the title game to capture the state single-season scoring record. The team averages an amazing 56 points-per-game average.
Needless to say, MCC first-year head coach Steve Czerwon said he doesn’t expect his Crusaders to give up that many points to the Aggies.
“They’ve scored a lot of points,” said Czerwon, “and they haven’t given up that many points this season, that much I know. It’s going to be a challenge for us on both sides of the ball and that’s how we’re preparing.”
The Aggie offense alternates between T-based and split-backfield sets. Despite what some may think, Czerwon said the Aggies are more than adequate throwing the ball, throwing for 30 of the team’s 64 plays in last season’s 35-10 state final loss to Harbor Beach.
Of course, the Crusader offense, which set a school record regular-season scoring record this year, is no slouch. Led by junior QB Nick Holt and senior running back Alex Lewandoski, both of which have been on a rushing tear throughout the playoffs, the Crusader offense also has scat back Tommy Scott and fullback Blake Sanford to turn to if the Aggies are able to shut down Holt and Lewandoski. Tight end Ian Tyler has been a reliable passing option for Holt.
“We are going to try to keep (Beal City’s) defense guessing,” said Czerwon.
Defensively, the Crusaders defensive power starts on the line, with Tyler, all-stater Michael Caughey, Jacob Holt and Jaeden MacPherson leading the way in the trenches, with Holt, Lamar Jordon and Nate Jones at the linebacker spots. Scott and Lewandoski lead the Crusader secondary. Lewandoski is also a first-team all-stater.
The two schools have had several late-season matchups in recent years, with MCC defeating the Aggies 45-20 in 2008’s state semifinal game, while Beal City defeated the Crusaders 14-7 in 2009’s state semifinal. MCC won the last meeting between the two teams, a 41-25 victory in 2010.
Beal City has two state titles, in 2009 and 1994, with runner-up finishes in 2001, 2003 and in last year’s title game.
MCC has taken the state title eight times (2008, 2006, 2000, 1995, 1991, 1990, 1982 and 1980) and finished as runner-up in 1981, 1986 and 2001.
Having been to the state finals game so many times before, Czerwon and crew are continuing one Crusader tradition which started during their title runs in the early 1990s. To prepare for the heat of Ford Field, Czerwon has been taking his team over the Muskegon High School pool room for some running after practice.
But beside that, the Crusaders will continue with the same recipe that has produced so much past success.
“There is no magic formula,” said Czerwon. “We have to have no turnovers and we have to play tough defense. That’s what we’ve always done. We plan on continuing that on Friday.”
The Division 8 title game is the first of four state championship games played on Friday. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m.
Muskegon faces off against Bloomfield Brother Rice in the next title game, with kickoff planned for 1 p.m.