Muskegon Catholic, the last area team standing, preparing for Saturday’s D8 semifinals against St. Ignace LaSalle

By Steve Gunn
LocalSportsJournal.com

The way Muskegon Catholic Coach Steve Czerwon sees it, style points are meaningless this time of year.LSJ Logo incert

It doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you get it done.

Czerwon’s Crusaders had their first real playoff test of the year last Saturday in a 22-12 victory over a determined Frankfort squad.Sport clips 2015 football sponsor logo

After much easier wins in the first two playoff games, the Crusaders made their fans sweat a bit.

MCC, which had three turnovers in the game, had to rally with two fourth quarter touchdowns (a 42-yard run by LaTommy Scott and a 58-yard run by Christian Martinez) to steal the victory and advance.

But Czerwon said a win’s a win, and his team gets to play another week.

“We came out with a victory,” said Czerwon, whose team will meet St. Ignace LaSalle in Saturday’s Division 8 state semifinals at 1 p.m. at Traverse City Central High School.

“One of the first guys I saw when the game was over was (Muskegon High School basketball coach/athletic director) Keith Guy, and like he said, it’s just about surviving every week.

“Frankfort had more turnovers than we did. We had one traditional fumble, then one was on a bubble pass that ended up being a lateral, and one was on an onside kick that took a funny hop.MCC tackle

“You want to cut down on turnovers this time of year, but the kids feel as bad as anybody when they fumble. They all know what they are fundamentally expected to do.

“The big thing is that we went on the road and traveled more than 200 miles for the second straight week and got a win. And we left that game thinking that Frankfort was a very quality team.”

Czerwon said he was pleased with the Crusaders’ determination to hang tough and win in a close and tense contest.

“I think the Fruitport game (during the regular season) toughened us up,” he said. “We trailed the entire game until the last minute. We definitely built some resilience and the spirit of not quitting in that game, and that same spirit showed up last weekend.

“Our defense was tough, especially in the red zone. Jacob Holt and Nate Jones made key interceptions for us. They are seniors and they know the gravity of the situation. They knew that could have been their final football game.”

A lot of people will be following the Crusaders this weekend, for several obvious reasons. MCC is trying win its third consecutive Division 8 state championship, and they are in the odd position of being the only area team left in the playoffs.

Muskegon County and the surrounding area usually has better representation. Last year, for instance, Muskegon and Mona Shores joined MCC in the state finals at Ford Field.Martinez

But Czerwon said none of those factors are clouding his team’s focus.

“We’re playing an extremely good football team, and we’re not focusing on anything outside of the task at hand,” Czerwon said. “If there were seven teams left from the Muskegon area we would be approaching this game the same way. That doesn’t enter into the equation at all.”

St. Ignace LaSalle comes into the game with an 11-1 record. The Saints, champions of the Ski Valley Conference, have outscored their opponents 451-127 this season.

Their playoff wins have come against Newberry (50-20), Johannesburg-Lewiston (16-8) and Crystal Falls Forest Park (22-8).

LaSalle’s offense is capable of moving the ball on the ground or through the air. The Saints have gained 2,839 yards rushing and 1,134 passing.

Their most dangerous offensive weapon is senior quarterback Gage Kreski, who leads the team with 667 yards rushing and 1,074 yards passing.

Like MCC, the Saints have depth in their ground game, with five runners gaining at least 200 yards this season.

Besides Kreski, they are senior running back-wide receiver Andrew Goldthorpe (567 yards), junior running back Mitchell Peterson (583), junior running back David Lavake (432), and senior fullback Kyle Sistrunk (283 yards).

Lavake and Goldthorpe are also dangerous receivers. Lavake has 25 receptions for 441 yards and eight touchdowns while Goldthorpe has 19 catches for 292 yards and five touchdowns.

“Their quarterback is their best player – he’s an extremely tough runner and a very capable passer,” Czerwon said.

“Defensively they are kind of reminiscent of our teams. A lot of their kids get to the football, and they seem to be extremely well coached. When you think of upper peninsula teams, you think of tough, physical kids.”

The Saints  will come into the game extra motivated, like they have every week since their Oct. 2 homecoming game.

They won the game easily, but later that night their teammate, senior tackle and linebacker Mitchell Snyder, was killed in a car accident allegedly caused by an intoxicated driver.

“That was obviously a terrible tragedy,” Czerwon said. “Everybody plays extra motivated this time of year, but we know they will have a very special motivation. It’s horrible to think of something like that happening to your player or your teammate.”

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