By Dave Tomczack
Local Sports Journal
MENDON – As it seemingly does every year, Muskegon Catholic Central’s road to the Division 8 state finals would have to go through Mendon.
And like most times these two teams face each other, it seemed as if it would
come down to the last possession for a victor to be decided. Only Crusaders quarterback Nick Holt had his own ending in mind.
The junior signal-caller rushed for 196 yards, including two huge fourth quarter runs, and helped lead MCC to a 28-12 Division 8 regional championship over host Mendon Saturday.
MCC will face New Lothrop next weekend in the state semifinals. New Lothrop defeated Ottawa Lake Whiteford 58-22.
On an overcast, windy day, the Crusaders entered the fourth quarter nursing a 14-6 lead. The Hornets (11-1), already deep in MCC territory thanks to a 56-yard kickoff return by Parker Cupp, would score eight plays later on a 11-yard TD pass from Robert Riley to Kyle Wiswell to cut the lead to 14-12. But Riley’s pass on the 2-point conversion attempt would be knocked down by Lamar Jordan and MCC would get the ball back with nine minutes left in the game.
Working to run the clock down, the Crusaders converted on two third down attempts before Holt broke loose. Carrying out a play fake, Holt bolted up the
middle untouched for a 33-yard score and a 21-12 lead with 4:06 left on the clock.
“On that play no one knew I was going to pull the ball but me and the running back,” Holt said. “It looks normal, like we’re going around the end.”
Despite the weather conditions, Mendon passed the ball well Saturday, as Riley, filling in for Jordan Medich who broke his collarbone at the end of the regular season, finished 17-of-35 for 189 yards. And trailing by nine, and with time running out, the Hornets offense went all air. But Holt would strike again, picking off Riley two plays after his TD run.
“My area (to cover) is the flat and the quarterback came running right at me,” Holt said. “It was the end of the game so I knew he was going to throw, I knew he had to. About a half-a-foot to the left, that’s a completion, but the ball died in my arms and I didn’t want to let go.”
Two plays later, Holt rumbled off 33 more yards down to the Mendon five,
where Tommy Scott would score a play later for a 28-12 lead with three minutes left in the game.
“We did a good job on all their backs except the quarterback,” Mendon coach John Swartz said. “When you have four guys in the backfield you have to keep your eye on, that’s tough. They’re big, strong and fast – just an awesome group of kids.”
Coming into the game, Mendon had pitched two shutouts in its first two playoff games, while the Crusaders (10-2) had allowed only 14 points late in their first game, with the backups in.
After a scoreless first quarter, it looked as if was going to be more of the same for these two teams.
The Hornets would threaten first. Still on a drive that started late in the first quarter, Mendon moved down to the Crusaders’ 16, taking six minutes off the second quarter clock and converting on a 4th-and-10, thanks to a pass interference call. The Hornets were finally stopped on another fourth down, as a pass to the end zone failed.
“We’ve seen them (put those kind of drives together) so many times,” MCC coach Steve Czerwon said. “Think you have them down, then they go on a
8-to-10 minute drive, and I thought, ‘My god, they’re doing it to us’. But we made the stop and got the ball back.”
The Crusaders offense, bottled up at that point, responded quickly. First Scott gained 11 yards on a run that ended with a Hornets personal foul. Then Blake Sanford busted loose for a 49 yard run down to the Mendon five, setting up Alex Lewdoski’s TD run a play later.
Griffin Seymour, almost automatic on extra points, gave MCC a 7-0 lead. That one point seemed as if it would play a big roll in the game until Holt took over.
Mendon, not accomplishing much on the ground, turned to the air on the ensuing drive. Riley would put the ball up seven times, with the final pass, a jump ball into the end zone, coming down in the hands of Wiswell for the score. But Jordan would break through the offensive line and block the extra point and the Crusaders kept the lead, although it was now down to one heading into the half.
“We knew they struggled in their kicking game,” Czerwon said. “And I think that blocked kick gave us back the momentum.”
The Hornets tried an onside kick to start the third quarter, but Catholic’s Nate Jones pounced on it to set the Crusaders up at midfield. But a play later, Scott fumbled the ball back to Mendon, who would put together a 12-play drive that reached the MCC 22. But facing a 4-and-12, Riley dropped back to pass and was promptly sacked by Ian Tyler at the 34.
Catholic Central responded with a drive of its own to end the third, running 11 plays and taking 5:27 off the clock. Finally, on a 4-and-7 at the Hornets 20, Holt broke free around the outside and scampered to paydirt and a 14-6 lead
with three seconds left in the third.
That would set up an entertaining fourth quarter, one in which, the Crusaders junior QB would leave his mark.
“(Mendon) did a heck of a job passing the ball,” Czerwon said. “But I thought we were the more physical team and if we stuck to our game plan we’d be okay.”
Muskegon Catholic finished the game with 331 total yards, all on the ground as Holt finished 0-for-7 passing. The QB picked up his yardage on 17 carries, Lewandoski had 46 yards on 18 carries and Scott finished with 38 yards on eight hauls.
Mendon was held to 74 rushing yards, but passed for 189 behind Riley. Wiswell led the receivers with 150 yards.
The Crusaders will hope to follow up a win at Mendon with a little more success
than last year, when they fell the following week in the semifinals. But no matter what the result, Hornets coach Schwartz expects the teams to dance again next year when the playoffs roll around.
“To win a state title it kind of goes through these two teams. That’s the way it is, and it’s probably how it’ll stay.”
MUSKEGON CATHOLIC CENTRAL 28, MENDON 12
MCC 0 – 7 – 7 – 14 – 28
Mendon 0 – 6 – 0 – 6 – 12
MCC – Alex Lewondoski 5 run (Griffin Seymour kick)
MDN – Robert Riley 22 pass to Kyle Wiswell (kick blocked)
MCC – Nick Holt 20 run (Seymour kick)
MDN – Riley 11 pass to Wiswell (pass failed)
MCC – Holt 33 run (Seymour kick)
MCC – Tommy Scott 5 run (Seymour kick)