Muskegon Big Reds end their season with a 36-7 loss to Lowell in muddy and slippery conditions

By Adam Knorr

LOWELL – When they advance far enough in the state tournament, even very good football teams must be prepared for the possibility of defeat.LSJ Logo incert

No team understands that better than Muskegon.

For three straight years, between 2012 and 2014, the Big Reds made it all the way to the state finals at Ford Field, only to lose each time.Sport clips 2015 football sponsor logo

On Friday Muskegon bowed out of the playoffs a bit earlier, dropping a disappointing 36-7 decision to the powerful Lowell Red Arrows on their home field.

Lowell, 11-1, advanced to the Division 2 state semifinals next weekend. Muskegon finished the season 9-3.

“When you get in this business of being great and putting yourselves in these regional championship, district championship, state championship games every year, you have to prepare yourself for these moments,” said Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield. “These things are going to happen.”

The pregame conditions left the field muddy and slippery, and Muskegon’s dynamic offense was suffocated by an inability to cut and accelerate.

Muskegon's PP Copeland avoids the Lowell tackle. Photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon’s PP Copeland avoids the Lowell tackle. Photo/Tim Reilly

Fairfield was more than a little unhappy about the field conditions after the game, suggesting that Lowell purposefully practiced on a wet field to muddy it up and slow Muskegon down.

“The state should do something about this,” Fairfield said. “When a team knows it’s raining and they deliberately practice on it the night before…

“I guess we should have won one more game (during the regular season) and they’d be playing at our house.

“I don’t even know who the best team was. You work so hard to build a team and an offense and athletes and then you get in here and you’re slipping and sliding all over the place. But it is what it is. It’s our fault. We should have won one more game.”

Lowell head coach Noel Dean offered a different perspective.

“It’s November in Michigan,” said Dean, who earned his 200th career win at Lowell with the victory. “I thought it impacted us worse than it did probably them, just from a standpoint of we’re a pretty skilled offense.”

No. 5 Terrion Hill-Mckay hauls in the reception for Muskegon. Photo/Tim Reilly

No. 5 Terrion Hill-Mckay hauls in the reception for Muskegon. Photo/Tim Reilly

Opposing teams have had difficulty keeping Muskegon’s athleticism in check all season, but Lowell didn’t allow the Big Reds a play of more than 20 yards until late in the second half.

Meanwhile, a balanced yet explosive Lowell offense played true to the scouting report, spreading offensive touches between the ground and the air.

The quarterback-wide receiver combination of Ryan Stevens and Gabe Steed was lethal all night. They connected five times for 83 yards and three touchdowns.

Muskegon played Lowell relatively evenly on the scoreboard in the second half, but an inability to move the ball meant it was too little, too late for the Big Reds.

Up 29-0 late in the third quarter, Lowell played more reserved both offensively and defensively, and gave Muskegon more chances to move the ball and make stops on defense.

From first whistle to final buzzer, Lowell owned Muskegon. The Red Arrows outgained the Big Reds 439 to 172.

Lowell’s Derek Massey opened the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown scamper late in the first quarter. Massey was a monster on the ground for Lowell, racking up 168 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

“I saw (Massey) cutting and slicing and making moves on the same field (Muskegon played on),” Dean said.

A minute later, the Red Arrows expanded their lead to 9-0 as Muskegon snapped a ball over punter Cameron Copeland’s head. Copeland kicked the ball out the back of the end zone to grant Lowell a safety.

Lowell’s Seth Dean returned the ensuing free kick to the Muskegon 20-yard line, then the Red Arrows struck again. Stevens hit Steed on a 16-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-six, and Lowell surged ahead 16-0 as the first quarter expired.

Lowell’s next two scores came on the Stevens-to-Steed connection. The duo hooked up for touchdown passes of 19 and 26 yards, the latter of which put the Red Arrows ahead 29-0 after a missed PAT.

Copeland got Muskegon on the board with a one-yard touchdown rush in the fourth quarter. Soon after, Massey ripped off a 70-yard touchdown sprint to send Lowell ahead 36-7 and seal the Red Arrow victory.

Stevens was 9-for-16 through the air for 140 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, while rushing for another 65 yards.

Muskegon quarterback Kalil Pimpleton struggled, completing just 9-of-24 passes for 93 yards and two interceptions – both of which were snagged by Lowell’s Sawyer Olesko.

Pimpleton added 32 yards on the ground, and Jared Pittman gave Muskegon 30 more.

Jacorey Sullivan caught four passes for 47 yards, and AJ McClanahan got an interception for Muskegon.

“These are parts of the game that you have to live with,” Fairfield said. “Now it’s just how they finish their lives. Wins or losses we’ll forget about, but what they become, and who they become as people is the most important thing.”

Dean improves to 4-3 all-time against Fairfield, and Lowell edges closer in the all-time series between the two programs, which stands at 8-5 in Muskegon’s favor.

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