By Adam Knorr
MUSKEGON – From a historic perspective, the Muskegon-Mona Shores football rivalry hasn’t been much of a rivalry at all.
Muskegon is a traditional power that has won more than 800 games in its 120 years of football, including 17 state championships and 23 conference titles.
Mona Shores, on the other hand, has only qualified for the state playoffs twice – in 2013 and 2014.
Muskegon has dominated the series between the two teams, 27-6.
But this series has heated up over the past few years, as the Sailors, under Coach Matt Koziak, have suddenly jointed the ranks of the elite.
It was never hotter than last year, when Mona Shores stunned Muskegon 46-27 in front of a packed House at Hackley Stadium to steal the O-K Black Conference title.
Both teams went on to advance to the state finals at Detroit’s Ford Field, and both lost, but they are both great again this season.
Mona Shores is a perfect 7-0 and 3-0 in conference play. Muskegon is 6-1 and 3-0 in the league. The two heavyweights will collide again in the area’s Game of the Year on Friday at Mona Shores at 7:15 p.m., with the conference lead and local bragging rights again on the line.
Each team will have one more conference game left next week, but both will be heavily favored, so Friday’s game will probably determine the league title.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield. “We’ve had a championship-type of attitude in focus and work. (My players) know (Mona Shores) is a team that beat us last year and they’re a team that’s on top.”
“I’d be lying if I said this was just another game,” Koziak said. “There’s a conference title at stake. This is a game that means something to us at Mona Shores. Playing Muskegon means something to us.
“To say it’s just another week, another game, I don’t think that’s doing either program justice.”
Last year’s showdown was a major breakthrough for Mona Shores, which hadn’t beaten Muskegon since 1982. The Sailors were propelled to victory by All-State quarterback Tyree Jackson, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more.
Some Big Red fans might have been comforted by the fact that Jackson graduated last spring, but his role has been filled to near perfection by Mona Shores senior quarterback Tyler Trovinger.
Trovinger, who suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 against Caledonia, returned to action last Friday in the Sailors’ easy win over Grand Rapids Union. He’s expected to be at full strength against the Big Reds.
In limited time this season, Trovinger has completed 45 of 62 passes for 15 touchdowns and one interception. His main targets include three very dangerous receivers – Darece Roberson, Hunter Broersma and Kobe Burse.
The Sailors also have a strong running attack, led by bruising running back Dom Shermeta, who has picked up 613 yards on 82 carries in 2015.
Thought the Mona Shores offense is plenty lethal, it’s the defense that has been giving teams fits all season, allowing an average of just over eight points and 150 yards per game.
But the Sailor defense has not been challenged with anything like the Muskegon offense.
After a Week 1 loss to Detroit Catholic, the Big Reds have averaged 47 points per game over the last six weeks.
Muskegon’s well-established offense is led by quarterback Kalil Pimpleton, versatile slot receiver PP Copeland and tailback Jared Pittman. The Big Reds tend to keep the ball on the ground more often than not, and give Pimpleton a number of options on each play.
It’s the Unstoppable Force vs. the Immovable Object, and both teams are taking it as a challenge.
“If you want to talk about winning a state championship, you have to find a way to score on teams,” Fairfield said. “Ten of their 11 starters on the defense are seniors. We’re going to see teams like them (in the playoffs). It’s a great challenge for us. We love scoring points and they love stopping people from scoring.”
“I think we match up well,” Koziak said. “We’ve got some kids that can run as well. It’s going to be a great matchup. It’s going to be what high school football is all about.”