Rematches in playoff openers for four area teams

Mark Lewis

Local Sports Journal

While seven of the Muskegon area’s playoff-bound teams face opponents for the first time of the season, two other match ups will be rematches of earlier showdowns.

That is particularly true of what many are calling the biggest playoff game of the night.

The Muskegon Big Reds (8-1, 5-0) face for the second time in two weeks league rival Reeths-Puffer (7-2, 4-1), this time in each team’s Div. 2 playoff opener.

Last week, which Muskegon won 20-7, it was for the OK Black Conference title.

This time it’s for the right to move on the second round.

The Big Reds are primarily powered by the legs and arm of senior quarterback Deshaun Thrower, a player has literally come of age this year in front of the Big Red faithful. But Muskegon is no one-trick pony. Slot back  John Hall can take it to the house at a moment’s notice, while junior running back Caleb Washington does a good job of moving the sticks. Receivers Joeviair Kennedy and Justin Foster are also dangerous weapons for Muskegon.

The Reeths-Puffer defense, which the school’s best (based on points-allowed-per-game) since 2000, sports a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, an approach that worked to perfection two weeks ago versus rival Mona Shores.

Limiting big plays is always important versus the explosive Big Reds.

Reeths-Puffer’s offense might not be as flashy as Muskegon, it has the potential of dominating the clock with long, clock-chewing drives. If the Rockets can eliminate turnovers (the team had three last week), and take advantage of Muskegon’s mistakes, there is little doubt the team could escape with the win.

The Rocket offense is a three-headed monster, featuring the talents of running backs Dereko Riley and Julian Munday, and blocking back Corey Plichta.

Of course, the Big Red defense is no slouch, having held five teams to seven points or less, including three shutouts in nine games. If the Rocket offensive line cannot keep Muskegon’s defensive line, led by Ken Finley and Jacob Sims, at bay, it will be a long night for Rocket quarterback Garrett Blanshine.

The area’s other rematch is the Div. 6, West Michigan Conference battle between league champion Shelby (8-1, 7-0) and third-place Montague (6-3, 5-2).

Both teams slunk into the playoffs, Shelby by dropping a 27-0 to Lakes 8 champion Spring Lake, and Montague after suffering a 28-14 loss to Fremont; it was the Packers’ first win over Montague since the early 1960s.

Shelby – which made it to last year’s state semifinal game to Ithaca (winner of the past three Div. 6 state titles and holders of the state’s longest win streak (which currently sits at an astounding 51-straight victories)), falling 31-14 – dismantled the Wildcats 33-7 in Week 4.

The Tiger offense is led by quarterback Andy Fortier, with backs David Guerra, Devin Mussell and Forest Courtright helping on the ground, and receiver Dylan Unger and tight end Brody Lee helping through the air.

Courtright leads the defense at linebacker, with Graham Herin and Kevin Brink up front, and Guerra and Fortier in the defensive backfield.

Montague’s offense is led by sophomore quarterback Jacob Buchberger, while Chris Carroll handles the majority of rushing attempts and wide receivers Wyatt Ford, Alex VanVleet and Mike Meekhoh handing the wideout duties. Tight ends Ben Rupert and Austin Fillmore may also figure into the Wildcats’ offensive plans.

Defensively, the Wildcats rely on Luis Martinez, Preston Kahl and Zach Dunlap up front, Brett Bumpus and Rupert at linebacker, and Ford and Buchberger at defensive backs.

While it probably won’t be the case Friday night that history will repeat itself, both Reeths-Puffer and Montague will need to shake up the scheme and dig deep into the playbook if they want this round to go their ways.

And for Shelby and Muskegon, more of the same will do just fine.

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