By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – It’s regional playoff week for the Muskegon football team and there’s a familiar buzz coming out of the Big Reds’ locker room.
“We’re talking about continuing to pursue a state championship and it doesn’t happen without this one,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said about Saturday’s Division 3 regional final against Petoskey. “We have the approach each week it’s another step forward.
“If you look in our team room we have a ladder to the state finals. We want to keep putting Muskegon helmets on each step, meaning we are moving forward in the right direction to meet our team goals.”
The Big Reds (10-1) hope to take the next step forward against Petoskey (9-2). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Holton High School.
Fairfield said the Northmen are a running team with mainly a fullhouse backfield and two tight end sets.
“They want to run at you,” Fairfield said. “We call it student body right and student body left because sometimes they pull with six people to the perimeter. They try to overwhelm you a little bit on the perimeter and run right at you.”
Muskegon has played plenty of power rushing teams this season and that should help on Saturday.
Petoskey’s ground attack is led by fullback Brent Murray (5-11, 185), who rushed for more than 800 yards and 15 touchdowns during the regular season.
Murray has stepped it up lately by rushing for more than 150 yards in each of the last four weeks. He totaled 163 yards against Mount Pleasant and 200 yards and four TDs against Bay City John Glenn.
Halfback Garret Lundteigen is another key runner for the Northmen.
“We have to limit their big-play capability and we have to keep everything in front of us until we get a feel for them,” Fairfield said. “We were able to do that last week against Cedar Springs. We gave 30 yards and two first downs in the second half.”
Petoskey, which tied Traverse City Central for second place in the Big North Conference, lost to league champion Cadillac 27-7 in Week 3 and fell to Gaylord 49-42 in Week 7.
In the playoffs, the Northmen topped Bay City John Glenn 42-7 and Mount Pleasant 20-14 en route to the school’s first district title.
Defensively, Petoskey will try to contain the Big Reds’ spread option veer with a 4-4 scheme. Muskegon’s balanced offense is led by quarterback Shawn Pfenning, running back Caleb Washington and slotback Alezay Coleman.
“They are a system defense,” said Fairfield, who’s led Muskegon to a Division 2 state runner-up finish the last two seasons. “They do what they do and they do it well. They are a two-loss team that has put themselves in a position for a regional championship.”
Muskegon is battle-tested after playing a tough schedule that includes wins over Detroit Catholic Central and playoff teams Grand Rapids Christian, Grandville and East Grand Rapids. Muskegon’s lone loss came against Mona Shores, which also is playing for a Division 2 regional title.
In the playoffs, the Big Reds blasted Grand Rapids Northview 59-21 and pulled out a hard-fought 27-14 win over Cedar Springs for the district title.
Saturday’s game against Petoskey will be played on artificial turf at Holton High School. The game was moved from Hackley Stadium for safety reasons due to poor field conditions on the grass surface and snow expected in the forecast.
Fairfield said it will be nice for his fast team to play on Holton’s artificial turf.
“We preach speed and do so much in the offseason with sleds and hills and building speed,” Fairfield said. “When you can’t use it, it’s like having a race car sitting in the garage on blocks.”
The Muskegon-Petoskey winner advances to the state semifinals to face the winner of the regional showdown between Lowell (10-1) and Zeeland West (11-0).