By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Muskegon-area football fans couldn’t ask for a better Week 9 matchup at historic Hackley Stadium.
Muskegon (8-0, 4-0) will host cross-town rival Mona Shores (7-1, 4-0) Friday at 7 p.m. on Senior Night for the outright OK Black Conference championship. Muskegon, the defending league champion, is ranked No. 2 in Division 2 and Mona Shores is ranked No. 5.
Both teams also are playing for the chance to host state playoff games.
The table is set and both coaches agree it will be an intense pre-playoff environment in front of a huge crowd.
“A lot of kids don’t get a chance to play in an atmosphere like this,” said Shores’ coach Matt Koziak, who is a former head coach and assistant at Muskegon. “I’m just happy for our kids and the Muskegon kids. You have two Class A schools two miles apart playing Game 9 for a conference championship. This is what high school sports is all about. Muskegon is a high quality team and I’d like to think we are a high quality team.”
Ironically, Muskegon has played for the league title in Week 9 each of the past two seasons. In 2012, Zeeland East won the conference championship with a 40-39 win against the Big Reds, while Muskegon topped Reeths-Puffer 20-7 for last year’s league crown.
The Big Reds were Division 2 state runners-up each season.
“We’re fortunate to be in another championship game, another trophy game,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “We understand what is at stake. We want to get three playoff games at home. We’re excited that we’ve put ourselves in this position.
“On paper, it’s a pretty even match,” said Fairfield, who oversees the state’s winningest high school football program. “It will come down to execution of the game plan and who can handle the big environment. I’d like to think we’ve played really well at home and we’ve played in a lot of big environment games.”
Both teams are worthy of their state ranking after playing challenging non-league schedules.
Muskegon, which has outscored all opponents 299-80, has beaten Detroit Catholic Central 21-14, Grand Rapids Christian 29-21, Grandville 24-16 and East Grand Rapids 37-7 outside of the O-K Black.
Mona Shores, which has outscored its opponents 318-103, has beaten non-league foes Saline 31-28, Fruitport 48-7 and Caledonia 40-7 while falling to Rockford 10-7.
“I said at the beginning of the year, if I had to pick a team to play our schedule, it would be this team,” Koziak said. “Obviously it would be wonderful to be 8-0, but honestly that loss to Rockford could have been the best thing to happen to our team. Since that loss, our practices have been fantastic. Our preparation watching film with the kids has been excellent. “
Muskegon and Mona Shores both run the spread option veer offense.
Muskegon’s balanced offense is led by quarterback Shawn Pfenning, running back Caleb Washington and slotback Alezay Coleman.
Mona Shores’ offense is sparked by University of Buffalo-bound quarterback Tyree Jackson, running back DeOntay Moffett and receiver Matt Schuiteman.
Friday’s showdown likely will come down to which team plays better defense.
Mona Shores enters the game with its best defense under fourth-year coach Koziak.
The Sailors haven’t won a conference championship in football since 1968, which also is the year they last won eight games in a season.
Mona Shores has made big strides in football under Koziak, who is 19-17 overall and 14-4 over the last two seasons.
The Sailors have challenged Muskegon the last two years, falling 26-20 last season and 34-14 in 2012.
“Ultimately, we have to play all four quarters against them,” Koziak said. “Last year it was 20-20 with six minutes left. We just haven’t (nailed down a victory) yet. We’ve come close, but to be honest, we’re tired of being close.”
Muskegon is on the edge of being Division 2 or Division 3 for the playoffs and will know its fate when the first-round pairings are announced Sunday by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. If the Big Reds are Division 2, there likely will be a first- or second-round rematch against Mona Shores.
Fairfield is just concentrating on Friday night and the chance for a 9-0 regular season, league title and home field advantage in the playoffs.
“We feel there is a lot at stake for our young men and we feel they can handle the pressure,” Fairfield said. “We’re excited they get a chance to experience such a crowd and have this at stake. They can talk about this the rest of their lives.”