By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
DETROIT – Muskegon Catholic Central has always been a power running team, foregoing the trendy trade for the proven commodity.
And the run has served the Crusaders well over the years, helping the program to eight state titles in the playoff era.
Make that nine state titles.
After taking narrow losses in the first two games of the season, and although they failed to complete a pass in the final two games of the postseason, the Crusader running game was more than enough to dominate Beal City (13-1) Friday morning as MCC (12-2) convincingly took the Division 8 title 35-12.
Senior Crusader running back Alex Lewandoski had an outstanding final game in a gold dome, rushing for 218 yards and three scores, while junior quarterback Nick Holt rushed for 130 yards as the Crusaders rolled to 419 rushing yards as a team.
For first-year head Steve Czerwon – who deflected attention away from himself and back onto his players – earning a state title in his first season while an expectation, was not a foregone conclusion.
“No matter who was going to be coaching of the team, whether it was myself, if Coach (Mike) Holmes had returned or if it was somebody else, I think the expectations were there because there was pretty much the same core group of kids who lost in the semifinals. No matter who took over, not only expectations, but I think the kids had expectations for themselves. With that being said, today we took the next step.”
“Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way we had hoped or prepared for,” said a morose Beal City head coach Lou Rau, whose team falls in the Division 8 finals for the second year in a row. “We made a big hurdle getting here two years in a row, but we couldn’t quite finish it off with a ‘W’.”
Catholic needed just one play to get on the board, a 78-yard TD gallop by senior back Alex Lewandoski to make it, following Griffin Seymour’s successful PAT, 7-0.
“It was just a regular Power 7,” said Lewandoski. “Our line just blocked it great. I don’t even think I got touched on the play, so you just got to give the credit to them.”
“When you give up that kind of play the first play of the game, that hurts,” said Rau. “You’re trying to dig yourself out of the hole right off the bat. It put us in a different play calling situation.”
Beal City looked very much still in the game throughout the first half, scoring on its third drive, a six play, 55-yard procession that took just over two minutes to complete. The Aggies’ Hayden Huber capped the drive with a two-yard run on the final play of the first quarter. Ty Rollin’s PAT sailed wide right.
Beal City was the first team to score in the first quarter against the Crusaders all season.
MCC answered with a 12-play scoring drive that would ultimately seal the deal.
“They ran our T offense to a ‘T’,” said Rau.
Lewandoski rushed four of the Crusaders’ final five plays of the drive, including a 1-yard blast to give his team the 14-6 lead.
MCC wouldn’t need any more points due to a particularly stingy performance by the Crusader defense against an Aggie offense that had heretofore put up 50-plus points a game; Beal City was 50 points away from the single-season state scoring record.
“They were on a mission,” senior Aggie QB Kurt Gross said of MCC’s defense. “Their (defenders) were very disciplined.”
Both teams had a chance to score late in the second quarter.
Beal City worked its way down to the Crusader 33, but was stopped on fourth-and-14 byway of an illegal shift penalty, a fumble, and two incompletions.
Holt put MCC in position to go up by two scores on the ensuing drive, breaking loose for a 49-yard gain with just 20 seconds left on the half, down the left sideline to the Aggies’ 13. Two plays later, however, Holt’s pass into the right flat was picked off by Beal City’s Nick Hoogerhyde, killing the drive in its tracks.
“I guess I only threw one more pass (after the interception),” joked Holt, who in fact attempted four pass in all night. “So that’s good. We just kept running the ball. We knew we were tougher than them. We knew we were tougher up front. If we were tougher and we can get holes, I don’t have to do much.”
But while the first half was back-and-forth battle, the second half was nothing but MCC, as the Crusaders clearing won the game of halftime adjustments, nabbing a quick score (in two plays) on the squad’s second possession of the third quarter.
On that drive, Lewandoski went over 200 yards on his second scoring run of the day, a 64-yard scamper that made it 21-6, while junior Tommy Scott put the Crusaders up by three scores on their third second-half possession with a nifty 21-yard TD run that covered twice as much yardage with Scott’s darting maneuver from off-tackle left to the right sideline.
Scott’s score was set up by junior Blake Sanford’s pick of Aggie QB Kurt Gross. Gross spent much of the day spelled by his brother, Tucker, a sophomore, which seemed to disrupt the normally explosive Aggie passing game.
Holt added a one yard score early in the third quarter, capping a 62-yard drive.
Beal City completed the scoring with a mammoth 17-play drive that ended with a TD toss from Tucker Gross to Ryan Tillmann to provide the final result.
For Czerwon, the victory was all about continuity and a connection to the past. He listed a considerable tally of all the players on his team who had parents and grandparents who attended MCC.
“It’s building on a tradition,” said Czerwon, “with a lot of the same families coming through. I think that’s what makes it so special here, with second-and third-generation Catholic kids. You can see the kind of fan support we had for a little bitty Class D school was just great.”
“It is tough going down in the state title game two years in a row,” admitted Beal City senior Rollin. “But when you look back on the seasons, especially this season, we broke a lot of records and everybody came so far and worked so hard. Nobody has anything to hang our heads about.”
To go along with Lewandoski and Holt’s combined 341 rushing yards, Scott added 53 yards on 10 carries.
Hayden Huber led the Aggies with 52 rushing yards on 13 carries. Kurt Gross finished with 94 yards on 8-of-16 passing and one pick.
Defensively, Sanford and Holt had interceptions, while Lewandoski led all MCC defenders with nine tackles, while Lamar Jordan finished with eight stops, and Michael Caughey and Jake Kimbrough added seven stops in the win.