By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – Big games are nothing new to many of the Muskegon Catholic Central football players.

They were on the field in 2012 when the Crusaders advanced to the state semifinals. And they were on the field during last season’s run to the Division 8 state championship.Shoreline football instory art

MCC coach Steve Czerwon views Saturday’s Division 8 state semifinal against Harbor Beach as the next big test in the journey to defend the Crusaders’ state crown.

There’s good reason for that. Harbor Beach is the last team to beat MCC in the playoffs. That was in the 2012 semifinals, when the Pirates  downed the Crusaders 32-27 and went on to win the state championship.

Kickoff for the showdown between top-ranked MCC (12-0) and second-ranked Harbor Beach (12-0) is 1 p.m. at Alma College.

The survivor will face the winner of the Munising-Beal City semifinal for the state title Nov. 28 at Detroit’s Ford Field at 10 a.m. Munising (11-1) and Beal City (10-2) will square off Friday at the Superior Dome in Marquette.

“This is a group of kids who’s been in these kinds of games before,” Czerwon said. “They’ve answered the call in all of the big games they’ve been in so far. We just have to go out and execute. Hopefully, execution and not turning the ball over is good enough to win.”

Many current Crusaders were on the field during the 2012 loss to Harbor Beach, but Czerwon said that defeat won’t necessarily be extra motivation this week.A96I5262x

“Your goal is always to advance and play the next week,” Czerwon said. “These guys are trying to accomplish a goal and this team is standing in the way of the goal they want to accomplish.”

Czerwon said the Pirates are a solid team on both sides of the ball.

Harbor Beach, which has compiled a 47-4 record over the past four seasons under Coach Troy Schelke, has outscored its opponents 529-59 this season with five shutouts.

In comparison, MCC has outscored its opponents 578-85 while breaking last season’s record for points scored.

The Pirates rolled to the Greater Thumb Conference East Division title. In the playoffs, Harbor Beach eliminated Sterling Heights Parkway Christian 61-0, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes 39-21 and Morenci 21-7.

“They are very sound and well coached in what they do,” said Czerwon, who’s led MCC to 24 straight wins. “They are fundamental in how they play football.”

Czerwon said the Pirates, who lost to Ishpeming in the 2013 Division 7 semifinals, use multiple sets on offense and have good size on their line.

Harbor Beach is led by quarterback Joshua Schelke and running backs Austin Seltz and Devin Lemanski.

In last week’s Morenci game, Schelke scored on a 4-yard TD run and threw a 59-yard TD pass to Seltz, who scored the other Pirate TD on a 7-yard run.

“(Schelke) is a little reminiscent of Eli Kraft, who had a great career at Harbor Beach,” Czerwon said. “He’s a dual threat and one of the top two runners on the team. I think they use him in a similar way as Eli Kraft.

“(Seltz) played in the 2012 game (against MCC). Now, he is their primary offensive weapon. They definitely move him around and move him around with a purpose.”

Czerwon said Harbor Beach does not appear to be an aggressive team on defense.

“We have to be ready for anything,” Czerwon said. “They are a lot like Mendon. They read and react. Their defensive ends are big and play wide and channel things back to the middle.”

Harbor Beach must contend with a powerful MCC offensive line that has created plenty of running room all season for speedy skill players like quarterback Nick Holt, fullback Logan Helton and halfbacks Tommy Scott and Blake Sanford.

MCC has been efficient on offense and limited its turnovers all season. The Crusaders also seem to set the tone early against their opponents, scoring in the first quarter and powering their way to victory.

“This group of kids always comes out and plays hard in the first quarter,” Czerwon said. “We preach that a ton. The first five minutes of the ball game really matters. Our kids take that to heart.”

The snowy weather likely will create some challenges for practice this week. Czerwon said his goal is to practice outdoors one or two days. Otherwise, it will be indoor workouts at MCC’s gym or an area indoor soccer facility.