By Jason Goorman
Local Sports Journal
NORTON SHORES – Everyone knows Mona Shores has evolved into a very good football team over the past two seasons.
They finally got into the playoffs in 2013, for the first time in school history. And they earned a lot of respect this fall when they beat powerful Muskegon and captured the O-K Black conference title.
But contenders for a state title? There were many skeptics. After all, Mona Shores had never been a “football school.” The Sailors were 1-8 as recently as 2011 and 4-5 in 2012.
But the group of doubters has been shrinking every week, mostly due to the manner in which the Sailors have dominated quality opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Everybody expected Mona Shores to struggle with a very good Caledonia team in the first round. But the Sailors walked away with a 42-14 win, which was every bit as impressive as their 40-7 victory over the same team in the regular season.
Many also thought the Sailors would have their hands full last week against previously unbeaten Midland Dow, which entered the game ranked second in the state. Mona Shores rolled again, 41-14.
Suddenly everyone is starting to wonder if Mona Shores, with its diverse and potent offensive attack and vastly improved defense, has what it takes to make it all the way to the Division 2 state finals at Ford Field.
The Sailors are two wins away from that goal. Their next challenge comes Friday when they host Battle Creek Lakeview in a regional matchup at 7 p.m.
“Our kids are focused on Battle Creek Lakeview,” said Mona Shores Coach Matt Koziak, whose team is 10-1 on the season. “If it happens to work out and we make it to Ford Field, it would be an awesome accomplishment. But we still have some pretty good teams to beat before we can get there.”
So where did the Sailors acquire their big game swagger?
Koziak admits the Muskegon game – in which the Sailors blew open a halftime tie and beat the previously undefeated Big Reds 48-27 – was a huge confidence builder.
“I’m not going to lie and say that wasn’t a huge win for our program, because it absolutely was,” Koziak said. “Muskegon is a been-there-done-that team and they are a really good football team this year.
“For us to beat them in Hackley Stadium was a huge accomplishment. It kind of said, you know, we can play with anybody and we can compete against anybody. I think that gave us great confidence to go into the playoffs.”
Koziak also says another game, much earlier in the season, was also key to the Sailors’ development. They lost to Rockford 10-7 in Week 3, and it proved to be an effective wakeup call.
“I think it was beneficial in numerous ways,” Koziak said. “It showed our kids we can’t just show up and win. I hate losing. Don’t get me wrong on that. But I think there are some things you can take away from a loss and if losses help you improve, then maybe it was worth it.”
Mona Shores gets a lot of attention for its prolific offense, which has rolled up 449 points this season, compared to 344 in 2013. The Sailors have scored at least 30 points in every victory. They scored more than 40 points in eight of those wins, including one point total of 55 and another of 61.
Senior quarterback Tyree Jackson leads the attack with 1,891 yards of passing (21 touchdowns and four interceptions) and 686 yards of rushing (11 touchdowns). Running back DeOntay Moffett has also had a great season, rushing for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Sailors have a luxury few teams can brag about – four talented receivers that can drive any defense crazy. They are Matt Schuiteman (34 receptions, 797 yards, 7 touchdowns), Hunter Broersma (23-420-8), Kobe Burse (26-344-3) and Darece Roberson (22-242-2).
But the big difference for the Sailors this year has been on the defensive side of the ball. They have only given up 158 points in 11 games, compared to 227 points in 10 games last season.
Leading tacklers are Dominic Shermata (129), Tyler Tippins (93), Tyler Trovinger (79), Noah Dykstra (72) and Blake Cramer (60). Broersma leads the defense with four interceptions.
The improvement is even more impressive when you consider that the Shores defense has been on the field quite a bit this season. The offense often scores quickly, meaning the defenders sometimes have little time to catch their breaths.
“I think we give up 14 points a game and a lot of times I think if we had a more clock manageable offense it would be even less,” Koziak said. “Sometimes we score so fast and put our defense right back on the field. We give other teams more possession time that maybe they would get if we were a power-I team or a wing-T team, something like that.”
Mona Shores will have to be wary of Battle Creek Lakeview, a team with a very similar recent history.
Like the Sailors, Lakeview won the first district title in school history last week. Before last season, when they were 10-1, the Spartans had not won as many as eight games since 2000.
Like the Sailors, they have a powerful offense and stingy defense, outscoring opponents 346-81 this season.
Lakeview beat Mattawan 14-7 in the first round of the playoffs, then downed Portage Northern 21-0 last week, avenging an opening night loss to the same team.
The Spartans feature a potent and balanced running attack. Running back Malik Schrad led the way last weekend with 126 yards on the ground against Portage Northern. Quarterback Skyler Nichols ran for 83 yards while running back Deon Kemp added 82.
“They are kind of a double tight end, two back, downhill, three yards and a cloud of dust type of team, and so with that they can control the clock,” Koziak said. “They are going to try to do that and keep our offense off the field. So we really have to get them out of their game and make them maybe throw a little more.
“They don’t like to throw. So if we can get them into second and long, third and long, get them out of their element and get three and outs and put our offense on the field, that is how we can win the football game.”