By Steve Gunn
But on Friday night they were talking about Dom Shermeta, the grinding fullback who gets the big yards when nothing else is working, and the fearless linebacker who gets the big tackles when they matter the most.
Shermeta had perhaps the biggest game of his varsity career against the Muskegon Big Reds, with first place in the O-K Black Conference and local bragging rights on the line.
He rushed for 171 yards on 25 carries, including two touchdowns, and added five solo tackles and two assists on defense.
In the end he was perhaps the biggest contributor in the Sailors’ thrilling 21-18 victory over the Big Reds.
“He’s our guys, we just say ‘Dom we need you, and he responds,” said Mona Shores Coach Matt Koziak. “I told him he looked tired late in the second quarter, and maybe he should take a rest, but he said ‘Im not coming out of this game,’ so we rode him and he did the job.”
Nothing much was working for either offense in the first half of the big game, which attracted an overflow crowd to Sailor Stadium.
Muskegon’s offense was crippled by a series of bad exchanges between center and quarterback, while the Sailors were slowed by one illegal procedure penalty after another.
Through all the confusion and misfiring, Shermeta managed to grind out 33 yards before halftime, including a six-yard touchdown burst early in the second quarter, to give Mona Shores a precarious 7-3 halftime lead.
But Shermeta did his most important work in the third quarter, when the game was still up for grabs.
On the third play of the second half, he plowed through the middle of the line, broke three or four tackles, including one in the open field, and raced for a game-changing 59-yard touchdown.
The extra point gave the Sailors a 14-3 edge.
“I just ran up the middle, I saw the safety try to get me and I cut to the left, then I saw someone coming out of the corner of my eye, and I felt a bump, but he couldn’t get his arms around my legs, so I just turned on the jets and kept going,” Shermeta said.
“I was hyped. I usually don’t show emotions or anything like that, but I was pumped.”
Later in the third quarter Shermeta broke loose for a big 30-yard gain that kept another drive alive.
By the time he was finished with his big runs, the Sailors were up 21-3. which turned out to be just enough of a margin to preserve the victory and allow the Sailors to gain the upper hand in the O-K Black standings.
Shermeta ended up gaining 138 yards in the second half.
“I just play hard, you have to keep playing hard through the whole game,” he said. “I was thinking we could battle through anything, whether we were down or up at halftime.”
Koziak said Shermeta’s rushing in the second half was crucial to the victory.
“He was a warrior,” the coach said. “When they are taking away our perimeter game and have a good secondary, we have to be able to run the football. I thought (Tyler) Trovinger and Dom Shermeta were really, really good as far as being the one-two punch.”
Shermeta had a few setbacks in the second half.
He took a hand off on fourth-and-goal from the Muskegon two-yard-line with about nine minutes left in the game. A touchdown would have probably iced the win for the Sailors.
But Shermeta failed to punch through the Muskegon defense, giving the Big Reds the ball on downs. Muskegon responded with an impressive 99-yard scoring drive to pull within 21-9.
Shermeta was back to receive on the ensuing kickoff, which rolled to the Mona Shores two-yard line. Instead of picking up the ball and running, Shermeta grabbed it and took a knee, leaving the Sailors with a first down deep in their own end.
That led to a bad snap on a Mona Shores punt attempt that flew out of the back of the end zone, giving Muskegon a safety and leaving the score 21-11.
“I have never been back on kickoff returns and never had it bounce in front of me,” Shermeta said. “I was worried and jumped on it. I had no clue what to do.”
Muskegon got another touchdown with 2:23 remaining to pull within three points, but could get no more.
Shermeta gained a key first down with a one-yard plunge with 1:30 remaining, allowing Mona Shores to keep the ball and take precious seconds off the clock.
Muskegon got a final chance after a short Sailor punt, taking the ball at the Mona Shores 43 with 23 seconds remaining.
But Shermeta and the Sailor defense hung tough, forcing the Big Reds to try a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds left that fell short, giving Mona Shores the thrilling victory.
“It feels good, but it feels even better to win the conference championship,” Shermeta said, without mentioning that the Sailors still need to win next week to nail down the title. “We like to the trophy, but of course we had to beat them to get the trophy.”