By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield saw his team experience a bad case of “fumble-itis” in the second quarter against Grand Rapids Christian.
But the Big Reds overcame those three lost fumbles and an 11-point halftime deficit to pull out a thrilling 29-21 victory Friday night at Hackley Stadium.
“I’m just proud of the kids for fighting, with as many mistakes as they made, and for them to answer and not fold,” Fairfield said. “We were down two scores in the second half. That is a heck of a defensive team.”
Muskegon improves to 2-0 entering next week’s game at Grandville, while GRC slips to 1-1.
The Big Reds also prevailed on a night the school honored the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 state championship. Former Muskegon coach Tony Annese, who is now the head coach at Ferris State University, was in attendance as the Big Reds outscored the Eagles 19-0 in the second half.
Trailing 21-10 at halftime with the help of three lost fumbles, the Big Reds turned it around in the third quarter. Quarterback Shawn Pfenning tossed a short pass in the flat to Keonte’ Whiteside, who received a key block and sprinted 23 yards to pull Muskegon within 21-16.
Muskegon, which won the field position battle in the second half, took control with a pair of touchdown runs from Caleb Washington in the fourth quarter.
Washington bolted 36 yards on a quick-hitter to put Muskegon ahead 22-21 with 8:47 left in the game. Muskegon’s defense followed with a pair of stops, with the second one setting up Washington’s 5-yard TD run with 51 seconds remaining for the final 29-21 count.
Fairfield considered taking a knee and running out the clock, but opted for Washington’s TD run and the chance to see his defense get tested in the final minute.
The Eagles managed one first down before the clock expired.
“Muskegon is Muskegon,” said GRC coach Don Fellows, who got his first head coaching job at Mona Shores. “I thought their coaching staff on offense did a nice job in the second half making adjustments. There’s not one kid on their team who can’t run and we were fighting for every yard.”
Washington was the key threat in Muskegon’s triple option spread offense. He carried 19 times for 180 yards and two scores.
“Caleb is a warrior and the heart of our team,” Fairfield said about his top running back. “He’s a silent leader who does it with his play.”
Muskegon rushed for 251 yards, while Pfenning completed 4-of-9 passes for 47 yards and a score.
GRC totaled 283 yards, including 168 on the ground. Patrick Hall completed 9-of-23 passes for 115 yards and a TD, while rushing for 69 yards on 17 carries and two scores.
In the first quarter, Muskegon bolted to a 10-0 lead on a 7-yard TD run by Alquan Evans and a 31-yard field goal by Miquel Flores.
Evan’s run came after an Eagles’ fake punt, while Flores’ field goal was set up after a Muskegon punt hit an Eagle player, giving the Big Reds the ball on the 20-yard line.
The second quarter was all tilted to the Eagles, who beat Grand Rapids South Christian 28-14 in its season opener.
Hall and McLauglin hooked up on a 26-yard TD pass to pull within 10-7.
Two lost Muskegon fumbles set up GRC’s next two scores – TD runs by Hall covering 10 and 15 yards, respectively.
Muskegon also missed a field goal with a bad snap as part of its second-quarter woes.
Taran Smith led the Big Red defense with 13 tackles, followed by Alezay Coleman with six and A.J. McClanahan Jr. with five.
Fairfield said his team will work on fixing bad snaps, fumbles and other mental mistakes starting this week.
“We have to stop making mistakes, but we have toughness and grit,” said Fairfield, whose team beat Detroit Catholic Central 21-14 in its season opener. “We will make sure in practice we stop putting the ball on the ground and stop making mistakes.”