By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
HOLTON – The Muskegon coaching staff sure made the right decision when it moved Saturday’s Division 3 regional football contest from Hackley Stadium to Holton High School.
They couldn’t have been more correct. After falling behind early, the Big Reds demonstrated their explosiveness by scoring 42 unanswered points en route to a 42-7 victory over Petoskey and a berth in next weekend’s state semifinals.
Their skill on artificial turf should serve the Big Reds well next weekend, when they are tentatively scheduled to play at Grand Haven High School, and possibly the following week, when they would play for a state title at Detroit’s Ford Field.
“”We knew last week, the field and the grass looked good at Hackley, but we sort of saw ourselves slipping and sliding too much,” said Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield, whose team is driving for a third straight appearance in the state finals.
“I kind of relate it to having a fast race car. We built a speed team, but then we have this Nascar vehicle sitting on the track with no tires. We want to play at Hackley in front of our fans, but we wanted to give the kids their best possible chance to win.”
The playoff path will now get significantly more difficult for Muskegon (11-1), starting next week with its matchup against Zeeland West, the defending Division 3 state champion which is undefeated this year. The Dux beat a very good Lowell team in another regional final to advance to the semifinals.
Zeeland West is coached by former Orchard View and East Kentwood coach John Shillito, a master of the deceptive wing-t offense.
The early word is that the game will be at Grand Haven High School on Saturday, but that still has to be confirmed.
“There’s a lot of respect between our two programs, and Shillito is a great coach and a two-time state champion,” Fairfield said. “We will have to play better defensively than we did today if we want a chance to win that game.”
The Big Reds fell behind early in Saturday’s game, just like they did last week against Cedar Springs.
Petoskey opened the game with a nine-play, 88-yard touchdown drive, which was made possible by a 58-yard burst by running back Andy Murray, who gave his team the ball at the Big Red 22.
Garret Lundtiegen scored from five yards out a few plays later, putting the Northmen up 7-0.
But Muskegon responded on its first play from scrimmage when Caleb Washington broke through the middle untouched for an 88-yard touchdown. Miguel Flores kicked the first of his six extra points to tie the score at 7-7.
It was all Muskegon from there.
Petoskey quarterback Evan Whitmore dropped back to pass on his team’s next possession, but he was hit as his arm was moving forward and the ball dropped into the hands of Muskegon defender Derices Brown, who raced 58 yards for a pick-six. Another PAT kick gave the Big Reds a 14-7 lead.
The Big Reds added to their lead on their first possession of the second quarter when quarterback Shawn Pfenning found Jacorey Sullivan in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Muskegon increased its lead to 28-7 when Joeviair Kennedy caught a pass from Pfenning around the Petoskey 20 and raced into the end zone with 58 seconds left in the first half
The Big Reds opened the second half with an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive, capped by a four-yard touchdown run by Alezay Coleman. The extra point made the score 35-7.
Muskegon’s final score came on a one-yard run by Pfenning early in the fourth quarter, giving the Big Reds a 42-7 lead and leaving the clock running for the rest of the contest.
The two team’s offenses were nearly even in time of possession, but the Big Reds were dominant statistically, with a 253-158 edge in rushing and a 148-60 advantage in passing.
Pfenning had a particularly strong performance through the air, completing 11 of 12 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with his single rushing TD.
Washington also had another big game, rushing for 138 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
Taran Smith paced the stingy Muskegon defense with 10 tackles, eight of which were solo.