Muskegon Catholic beats St. Ignace 33-20, earns the right to play for a third straight state title

By Steve Gunn

TRAVERSE CITY – There’s something about being challenged that brings out the best in the Muskegon Catholic Crusaders.LSJ Logo incert

That’s a promising characteristic for a football team that’s preparing to play for its third straight state championship.

The Crusaders let a big lead dwindle down to eight points early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division 8 state semifinals against St. Ignace at Thirlby Field in Traverse City.

MCC #3 Walker Christofferson eludes the tackle by St Ignace #1Gage Kreski to start the scoring for MCC photo/Tim Reilly

MCC’s Walker Christofferson eludes the tackle by St Ignace’s No. 1 Gage Kreski to start the scoring for MCC. Photo/Tim Reilly

And that’s when MCC came to life.

Senior quarterback Christian Martinez answered the challenge by directing an impressive  60-yard scoring drive, capped by his amazing 10-yard touchdown run with 5:04 left in the game.

MCC’s Nate Jones followed that with a midfield interception, then running back LaTommy Scott turned in a highlight reel 25-yard touchdown run, giving the Crusaders the breathing room they needed to capture a 33-20 victory in cold and slippery field conditions.

MCC, now 10-2, will face Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes Friday at 10 a.m. at Detroit’s Ford Field for the Division 8 state title.

“I know I sound like a broken record, but we fought back against Fruitport (for the Lakes 8 Conference title in the regular season) and won a game that it didn’t look like we were going to win,” said MCC Coach Steve Czerwon, whose 2014 squad plowed over most of its opponents en route to the state title.

“Then last week we fought back and won when we were down three points with about eight minutes to go. We’ve definitely been pushed. It’s not like last year. This is a different group of kids, but a very resilient group of kids.”

MCC #15 Nate Jones and #6 Brody Kieft corral St Ignace #2 Andrew Goldthorpe photo/Tim Reilly

Nate Jones and No. 6 Brody Kieft corral St Ignace running back Andrew Goldthorpe. Photo/Tim Reilly

Martinez, a first-year starter at quarterback, said his teammates all remained calm when the game started getting uncomfortably close.

“We weren’t scared,” Martinez said, when asked about the St. Ignace comeback attempt. “We knew we had to stay composed. It’s a game of ups and downs. We knew we had to bounce back after a shaky defensive series and keep fighting to the end.

‘It’s great being able to fight through diversity with people you love.”

The first half of the game was as calm as the second half was crazy.

St. Ignace took the opening possession to the MCC 28 before turning the ball over on downs.

Neither team was able to move the ball for the rest of the first quarter or half of the second, with each punting three times.

The Crusaders finally got a break when they got the ball at the St. Ignace 49 following a short punt.

Three plays later running back Walker Christoffersen took a pitch from Martinez, broke outside to the right and raced down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown with 7:08 left in the second quarter.

MCC QB Christian Martinez eludes the would be St Ignace tackler No. 10 Alex France on his way to the end zone. Photo/Tim Reilly

MCC QB Christian Martinez eludes the would be St Ignace tackler No. 10 Alex France on his way to the end zone. Photo/Tim Reilly

A bad snap on the PAT kick attempt left MCC with a 6-0 lead.

St. Ignace took its next possession to the MCC 35 before losing a fumble.

MCC then drove to the St. Ignace 37, but the effort stalled with an interception at the 22 on a fourth-and-3 play.

The Crusaders got a break late in the first half when they recovered a fumble after a bad snap on the St. Ignace 39 with 1:05 remaining.

Martinez completed three straight passes – 18 yards to Mason Convertini and 15 and 11 yards to Christofferson, and had the ball at the St. Ignace 8.

A delay of game penalty moved the ball back to the 13. But on the next play Martinez hit a wide open Scott in the end zone with a touchdown pass, and the extra point by Jose Zambrano gave MCC a 13-0 halftime lead.

MCC seemingly took control of the contest on the fourth play of the second half when Scott broke several tackles and juked his way past several defenders for a 45-yard touchdown run.

The PAT kick by Zambrano put the Crusaders up 20-0.

But St. Ignace fought back.

LaTommy Scott finishes an amazing scramble for the score. Photo/Tim Reilly

LaTommy Scott finishes an amazing scramble for the score. Photo/Tim Reilly

The Saints got on the board on the first play of the fourth quarter with an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gage Kreski to running back Andrew Goldthorpe.

The PAT pass was incomplete and MCC led 20-6.

MCC fumbled on its next possession, giving the Saints the ball on the Crusader 37.

St. Ignace fought to the MCC 14, and appeared to lose the ball on downs, but a holding call on the Crusaders gave the drive new life. Goldthorpe scored three plays later from three yards out, but the PAT pass failed, leaving the score 20-12.

MCC fans might have been worried at that point, but the Crusader offense remained calm, collected and determined.

The Crusaders had the ball on their own 43 when Martinez hit Convertini with a 22-yard sideline pass on third and 7 to put the ball at the St. Ignace 35.

Christoffersen added a 16-yard run three plays later, giving MCC the ball at the St. Ignace 10,

Martinez brought the crowd to its feet on the next play, keeping the ball and shaking off at least four or five would-be tacklers in heavy traffic to score a crucial 10-yard touchdown. The PAT attempt failed, leaving MCC up 26-12.

“I didn’t think we were going to make it to the end zone,” Martinez said. “A few people slipped off me, the I got a nice block in the end that helped me get into the end zone.

Nate Jones gets the interception late in the game to seal the MCC win. Photo/Tim Reilly

Nate Jones gets the interception late in the game to seal the MCC win. Photo/Tim Reilly

“I didn’t want to go down. I wanted to help build our lead.”

Jones picked off a pass on the first play of the next Saint possession, giving MCC the ball at the St. Ignace 29.

Two plays later, from the 25 yard line, Scott took a handoff and ran to the left side, encountered heavy traffic, reversed direction and broke several tackles far behind the original line of scrimmage. Then he ducked and dodged his way up the right side of the field for an amazing touchdown.

Zambrano’s extra point gave the Crusaders a 33-12 lead with 3:52 remaining in the game.

“I just tried to get to the end zone and use my speed and what I have and let my team block for me,” said Scott, who was 10 or 15 yards behind the original line of scrimmage when he changed directions.

Scott admitted that the field was slippery, but said he and his fellow backs found a way to keep their running game alive.

“There was so much ice on the field that when we tried to make our cuts we slipped,” he said. “But then we started to clean out our cleats and making the cuts and hitting our holes.”

St. Ignace added a late touchdown but could get no closer.

MCC dominated in total offense, 383-150. That included a huge 318-98 advantage in rushing.

Christofferson led the Crusaders on the ground with 25 rushes for 192 yards. Scott finished with 10 runs for 102 yards. Martinez completed 6 of 9 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown and one interception.

Andrew Schulte led the MCC defense with 10 tackles and one sack. Jacob Holt added eight tackles, Martinez chipped in seven and Adam Benoit had five.

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