By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
Local Sports Journal
DETROIT – The record book will only record one simple fact:
Muskegon lost 7-0 to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Saturday in the Division 3 state title game at Ford Field in Detroit.
Of course the latest loss means the Big Red seniors won’t get another chance to fulfill their three-year dream, but Coach Shane Fairfield gave them two important things to remember following the defeat:
Very few teams make it to the state finals even once, let alone three years in a row. And what’s really important is the lessons they learned from three years of hard work and sacrifice in pursuit of high school greatness.
“You played your best – we have no regrets – that’s our motto,” an emotional Fairfield told his players on the field after the game. “Not being here would have felt a hell of a lot worse.
“I know it’s not easy and it hurts. For three years in a row you came here and you battled. Nobody else can say that.
“We have to continue the pursuit of greatness in our lives. If you continue to pursue life that way, everything we did the last 14 weeks will not be a loss.”
Muskegon senior running back Caleb Washington appeared a bit stunned after the defeat.
“Our defense played a hell of a game and bailed us out,” said Washington, who gained 83 yards on 20 carries Saturday. “We had a lot of turnovers that hurt us.
“It does hurt (to lose another title game) but when everyone plays as hard as they can…I’m just not feeling it right now. But I’m still really proud of our team.”
What makes the loss extra tough for Muskegon is how it happened.
In the first half the Big Reds allowed Orchard Lake to score on its first possession of the game, gave up a first quarter interception that nearly led to another Eaglet score, then were stopped on downs at the Orchard Lake two-yard line in the second quarter.
The second half was just as frustrating.
The Big Reds were driving in Orchard Lake territory in the third quarter when another interception kept them scoreless. They had a similar chance in the fourth quarter, but at third and final interception at the Orchard Lake 18 ended their chances.
Muskegon outgained Orchard Lake 168-164 in total yards and 59-31 in passing yards. Orchard Lake had a 133-109 edge in rushing yards and a 10-8 advantage in first downs.
Fairfield defended senior quarterback Shawn Pfenning, who wrapped up a great season by completing 4 of 10 passes for 34 yards and the three costly interceptions.
“Shawn played his heart out,” Fairfield said. “No kid wants to throw an interception and no kid wants to turn the ball over. Shawn did nothing wrong. Shawn is our guy.”
Orchard Lake opened the scoring on its first possession. The Eaglets took a punt at the Muskegon 34, then drove nine plays for the touchdown.
Brandon Adams completed the short drive with a one-yard scoring burst.
The Eaglets threatened to build on their lead late in the second quarter when Ross Moore picked off a Muskegon pass at the Big Red 35 and returned it to the 16.
Orchard Lake drove to the Muskegon one-yard line, but lost the ball on a fumble that was recovered by Big Reds senior linebacker Taran Smith.
Muskegon then drove 96 yards on 14 plays, taking nearly 11 minutes off the clock.
The drive was kept alive by Pfenning’s runs of 11 and 18 yards, a 28-yard halfback pass from Alezay Coleman to Joeviair Kennedy, and a 26-yard burst by Washington to the Orchard Lake 10.
But the Eaglet defense stuffed the Big Reds on fourth down at the two-yard line, keeping Muskegon off the scoreboard.
Orchard Lake led 7-0 at halftime.
Muskegon outgained Orchard Lake 101-71 in total yards in the first half. Orchard Lake had five first downs and Muskegon had four.
The Big Reds drove to the Orchard Lake 38 on their first possession of the third quarter, but were forced to punt.
Muskegon started its next drive on its own 22, but an interception by Orchard Lake’s Troy Marks on the first play from scrimmage gave the Eaglets the ball deep in Big Red territory.
But Orchard Lake failed to capitalize when a fake punt attempt from the Muskegon 41 did not produce a first down.
The Big Reds drove to the Orchard Lake 37 early in the fourth quarter, but were forced to punt again.
Muskegon’s best chance to score might have come with about nine minutes left in the game, when a short Orchard Lake punt gave the Big Reds the ball at the Eaglet 38.
But Orchard Lake got its third interception four plays later, by Dwayne Chapman at his team’s 18-yard line, killing the Muskegon threat. Orchard Lake kept possession of the ball for the final 6:40 to secure the victory and the state title.
The key play of the final possession came on fourth-and-two at the Muskegon 34 with under three minutes remaining. Orchard Lake’s Josh Rose plowed off tackle for five yards and the first down that allowed his team to kill the rest of the clock.
“The game could have gone either way, a break here, a break there,” said Fairfield. “They play great football and we proved we can play great football as well. Defensively they made a few more good plays than we did.”
The Big Reds finished the season 12-2.