By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
DETROIT – State championship football games are supposed to be challenging, and Munising gave Muskegon Catholic all it could handle for one half on Friday.
MCC’s Tommy Scott scored four touchdowns, including three in the pivotal second half, as the Crusaders rallied from an early deficit to secure a 31-6 victory in the Division 8 state championship game at Ford Field.
It was the second straight state title for the Crusaders, who finished the season with a perfect 14-0 record and have now won an incredible 26 straight games since losing the first two of the 2013 season.
Scott was clearly the hero of the contest, rushing for 92 yards on 21 carries and running back a state finals record 99-yard kickoff return.
Scott stood out despite feeling sick during the game and vomiting, an ailment he said was caused by “Thanksgiving food.”
“It feels great,” Scott said about winning another state title. “I felt sick in the first half, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me in my last game, playing for a state championship.”
MCC quarterback Nick Holt also turned in a strong performance after missing most of last week’s semifinal victory with an ankle injury. He rushed for 68 yards on 13 carries, including 40 yards on the Crusader’s pivotal first drive of the second half.
The Crusader defense was stifling as always, shutting out Munising after its early touchdown and holding the Mustangs to 39 yards rushing and 105 yards passing.
Zach Winzer led the MCC defense with five tackles while Jaden MacPherson and Lamar Jordan had four apiece.
“I would just like to thank this group of seniors who have played so hard and meant so much to this Catholic community,” said MCC Coach Steve Czerwon, who has now won state titles in his first two years as a head coach.
Muskegon Catholic’s 10th state title in school history required some hard work by the Crusaders.
Munising scored on its first possession, and the Mustang defense did a great job of containing the powerful Crusader rushing attack in the first half.
MCC did not get a first down until the second play of the second quarter. The Crusaders were forced to punt three times before halftime – which was unheard of this season – and only managed a paltry 59 rushing yards.
“We thought they were a very good defensive team and we knew they might give us some trouble moving the ball,” Czerwon said.
Munising stunned everyone on its first possession, when quarterback Austin Kelto connected with Andy Cooper on a 74-yard touchdown pass. Cooper caught the ball around midfield and outraced Crusader defenders to the end zone.
It was the first time MCC trailed in a game this season.
“We didn’t give up a point in first quarter this year and we gave up six points on the third play today,” Czerwon said. “Credit them for making the plays. That was a good football team we played today.”
The Crusader deficit only last a few seconds. Scott fielded the ensuing kickoff at the one-yard line and ran all the way back for a 99-yard touchdown return. The return set a new record for kickoff returns in the state finals, shattering the old mark by two yards.
The PAT kick by Griffen Seymour gave MCC a 7-6 lead.
The Crusaders managed to drive 73 yards on 18 plays early in the second quarter, but had to settle for a 25-yard Seymour field goal and a 10-6 lead.
The Crusaders nearly scored again with under a minute to go before halftime when quarterback Holt completed a 29-yard pass to Blake Sanford at the Munising 7-yard line, but Sanford fumbled and a Munising player jumped on the ball.
But there was a flag on the play – roughing the passer against Munising – giving the Crusaders the ball back at the Munising 21 with 33 seconds left. But Munising’s Ian McInnis picked off a Holt pass one play later, leaving the score 10-6 at halftime.
The Crusaders took control in the third quarter.
They received the kickoff and drove the ball 64 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown. Holt sparked the drive with 44 yards rushing while Scott topped it off with a one-yard scoring burst. Seymour’s extra point gave MCC a 17-6 lead.
After a Munising punt, the Crusaders took over at the Munising 43. Scott scored on the fourth play from scrimmage with a 30-yard touchdown burst, and Seymour’s third PAT gave MCC a 24-6 lead.
MCC extended its lead to 31-6 in the fourth quarter, with an eight-play, 38-yard scoring drive, which ended with a 9-yard scoring run by Scott.
“We thought they were getting a little warn down in the second half,” Czerwon said. “One linemen even said ‘they’re getting tired, let’s keep pressing.'”