By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
Perhaps, no school in the state can match Muskegon’s difficult four-game stretch to open the 2014 high school football season.
It was a night of big plays and big hits for the unbeaten Big Reds, complete with an exclamation point victory against the state-power Pioneers.
“We hadn’t played them before in history,” Muskegon’s two-way standout Alezay Coleman said. “I knew if we beat them we’d be 4-0.
“We hadn’t played a perfect game yet. We knew we could do it if we had no letups and didn’t take any plays off. It paid off tonight.”
Muskegon survived what Fairfield describes as “The Gauntlet” to open the season. The Big Reds will start the OK Black season by hosting Grand Rapids Union next Friday night.
Muskegon will be favored to win the league, especially if the Big Reds play a team game like they did against EGR.
“We’re happy to be 4-0,” said Fairfield, whose team outgained EGR 423-151 in total yardage. “(EGR) is a good team. They had a heck of a battle last week against Lowell. I thought our kids persevered and played their best football in Week 4.”
Muskegon started fast with touchdowns on its first two possessions.
Quarterback Shawn Pfenning scored first on a 2-yard TD run in a drive aided by three Pioneer penalties.
Coleman followed with a 14-yard run to help the Big Reds to a 14-0 lead at the 6:06 mark of the first quarter.
Pfenning and Coleman both had big nights.
Pfenning completed 12-of-18 passes for 141 yards and a TD, scored two rushing TDs and made good decisions in the spread option veer attack.
Coleman generated a TD run, an amazing TD reception and six tackles from his safety position.
The first real big offensive play came courtesy of Coleman, who caught a pass from Pfenning, then broke at least two tackles and sprinted into the end zone to put the Big Reds ahead 21-0 early in the third quarter.
Coleman’s big 45-yard TD reception stunned the Pioneers, who could not stop the key play on third-and-17.
“Muskegon outmanned us and outplayed us in all aspects of the game,” said EGR coach Peter Stuursma, whose team beat Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Ottawa Hills before falling to Lowell 30-25 last week.
“I thought our defense gave us a chance to hang in there. I thought we had a chance and then they hit the third and long and broke the big one and that broke our backs.”
The Pioneers did answer with a solid scoring drive, capped by quarterback Mike Roth’s 7-yard TD pass to Jon Olsson late in the third quarter.
But EGR, hampered by poor field position, could not threaten to score the rest of the way.
Roth spent most of the night running from the Big Red defense. He completed 10-of-19 passes for 64 yards and also carried 11 times for 43 yards.
Muskegon built its lead to 28-7, thanks to a big play from Keonte’ Whiteside. He bolted 76 yards on a counter play to the right just before the fourth quarter started.
“We realize if we can get one block on the perimeter, we have guys who can go the distance,” Fairfield said.
Kicker Miquel Flores, who made 4-of-5 extra points, drilled a 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to put the Big Reds ahead 31-7.
Muskegon finished the scoring when Pfenning scored on a 5-yard TD run with 7 seconds left in the game.
Steady Caleb Washington led Muskegon’s ground attack with 16 carries for 155 yards.
Joeviair Kennedy also caught two passes for 41 yards.
Running back Bryce Henkey added 42 yards on 20 carries for the Pioneers.
Defensively, the Big Reds were quite impressive. Take away some penalties and EGR may not have scored on its one drive. The Pioneers had 87 rushing yards and 64 yards through the air.
The Big Reds also delivered many big hits.
“We will be physical,” Fairfield said. “We love to be physical.”
Linebacker Taren Smith, who left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter, led the Muskegon defense with nine tackles. Terrion Hill-Mckay and Jamel French each had six tackles and Rowland Sharp II added five stops. French and Sharp each had a sack.
Top tacklers for the Pioneers were Michael Johnston with seven and Ben Wollet with six.
About the only concern for Fairfield was Muskegon’s 13 penalties for 113 yards. Other than that, Muskegon played its best game, including previous wins against Detroit Catholic Central, Grand Rapids Christian and Grandville.
“We don’t want to get hung up on 4-0,” Fairfield said. “We realize there are a lot of games to play.”