By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
LOWELL – The site of the Muskegon Big Reds’ lone loss turned into a site for celebration on Friday night.
The third-ranked Big Reds, whose only loss of the season came during the regular season against the host Lowell Red Hawks (ranked No. 2), returned and walked away not only with a 28-21 victory, but a Division 2 district title.
That means Coach Shane Fairfield and his team will host the regional final next week against Midland, which defeated Midland Dow 56-28 on Friday night. The site of that game will be determined following an evaluation of the turf at Hackley Stadium.
But on the Red Arrows’ turf on Friday night, the Big Reds (10-1) never trailed in a contest that attracted a standing room only crowd to Lowell High School.
“It feels absolutely great because we did it on this field, which we hadn’t done since 2006,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “So it means about our kids who can to our kids who can play and play anywhere and play a great football team
“That team is tough as nails,” Fairfield said of the Red Arrows. “That’s a formula for toughness and for our kids to persevere and get banged up a little bit and to come back and play the game the way they did, I’m proud. It’s one of the biggest wins in my career.”
The Muskegon defense chased Lowell star quarterback Kyler Shurlow all night long. He was knocked around, sacked and forced to make some passes a bit quicker than he had planned. Offensively, quarterback Deshaun Thrower, who suffered an ankle injury in the four quarter, turned in another strong performance both with his strong right arm and his legs.
Shurlow finished 16-of-40 for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He also had three interceptions. Thrower had two touchdown passes and rushed 20 times for 107 yards.
Thrower connected with Justin Foster on a 63-yard touchdown run to begin the evening’s scoring with 11:47 remaining in the first half. That drive started after a Lowell turnover. A pass to Lowell’s Josh Branagan was completed, but a big hit by Alezay Coleman jarred the ball loose and T.J. Copeland recovered.
It didn’t take long for Muskegon to take a 14-0 lead. On the Red Arrows’ second play on their next drive, Coleman intercepted a Shurlow pass. On the Big Reds’ first play from scrimmage, Thrower faked an inside handoff and dashed 34 yards for a touchdown.
Lowell’s Jeff Houston picked off a Thrower pass later in the quarter and that drive resulted in a touchdown that got the hosts on the board. Shurlow connected with Houston on a fourth down at the Big Reds 6.
Muskegon took that 14-7 lead into the half.
Near the midpoint of the third quarter, Muskegon struck again when Thrower connected with William Roberson on a 43-yard touchdown pass.
Lowell pulled back to within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a sliding catch in the end zone by Houston. That 7-yard touchdown pass from Shurlow and the conversion made it 21-14.
Muskegon didn’t take long to restore its two-score lead. A 63-yard drive took just five plays. The biggest gainer was a 48-yard completion to Joeviair Kennedy that moved the Big Reds to the Red Arrows’ 14. Three plays later, Javauntae Thomas scored from 1 yard out.
Thrower later hobbled off the field with an ankle injury, but returned in the game’s final minutes.
“That’s just toughness,” Fairfield said. “There’s nothing that I can say about that young man. I mean you should cut him open to see if he’s real. He’s like the terminator.”
Lowell, with its perfect season on the line, wasn’t about to go away easily.
Shurlow found Houston on a 44-yard pass play that put the Red Arrows at the Muskegon 11. But on the next pass play, the drive ended. Josh Branagan caught the ball at the Muskegon 2, but a jarring hit by Thrower caused the ball to pop up in the air and into the arms of Taran Smith.
With 16 seconds remaining, Shurlow found Houston on a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-21.
Coleman went up high and pulled down the Red Arrows’ onside kick and Muskegon celebrated its hard fought victory.
“We left some points on the field and we dropped some big passes, but the great thing about that is we’re blessed to play next week and correct them,” Fairfield said.
“We were focused on revenge, we were just trying to fix our mental errors,” Muskegon linebacker William Hunt said. “I made sure we were ready mentally.”