No rest for the Big Reds: After getting past Mona Shores, Muskegon will face a loaded Lowell squad in regionals

By Adam Knorr

LOWELL – On Friday night, two of West Michigan’s marquee football powerhouses will go toe-to-toe in the Division 2 regionals.LSJ Logo incert

Both the Muskegon Big Reds and Lowell Red Arrows are riding waves of confidence, for differing reasons.

The Big Reds topped previously unbeaten crosstown rival Mona Shores 21-10 last week after losing to the Sailors in the two teams’ first matchup. The Red Arrows haven’t lost a game since a tight Week One loss to Walled Lake Western.Sport clips 2015 football sponsor logo

It’s Red vs Red, with a berth in the state semifinals on the line beginning at 7 p.m. at Lowell High School.

The winner will play the survivor of the Midland Dow-Walled Lake Western regional in the semifinals.

“We’ve never played against Muskegon when we had more talent than them, so we’ve always had to be creative,” said Lowell head coach Noel Dean. “We’re excited about playing a football team that looks really good. If we win, we get a chance to play again.”

Muskegon (9-2) is coming off an emotional win against its local rival. Some think that will give the Big Reds an extra boost of confidence. Others wonder if they will be more emotionally drained from having a rivalry game in the playoffs.

Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield doesn’t subscribe to either theory.

“People keep asking me about it, but the confidence is just that we won a football game,” he said. “Everyone was all hung up on us beating Shores, but I don’t know if it was as big a question when we played Reeths-Puffer twice in 2013.

“The confidence thing is the fact that we won and we go on and we’re playing again Friday.”

Coach Shane Fairfield addresses the district champion Muskegon Big Reds after the victory over Mona Shores. Photo/Eric Sturr.

Coach Shane Fairfield addresses the district champion Muskegon Big Reds after the victory over Mona Shores. Photo/Eric Sturr.

Lowell (10-1) rolled over its first two playoff opponents, culminating in a 48-17 win over Byron Center in the district finals.

The Red Arrows pose a slate of problems for opponents. The Lowell offense will trot out a number of different looks and formations, sometimes lining up eligible receivers along the offensive line and forcing opposing defenses to prepare for uncommon schemes.

“The biggest thing they do is they have smart kids who try to formation the heck out of you to get you guessing and moving your feet,” Fairfield said. “When you’re thinking, you’re not playing. (That’s what) we always tell our kids.”

In recent weeks, Fairfield’s defense has been playing just fine. The Big Reds (9-2) held explosive Mona Shores to a season-low 10 points in last week’s win.

Fairfield credits his defensive line for occupying blockers and gumming up holes, allowing Muskegon’s linebackers and secondary to thrive.

By Fairfield’s count, cornerback Jacarius Scott has only had one touchdown thrown against him in the past two seasons. And he said cornerback AJ McClanahan didn’t allow a single touchdown to Mona Shores standout receiver Kobe Burse in their matchups over the years.

“Our corners don’t get the love the east-side corners do, or some of the ones around here,” Fairfield said.

Muskegon’s cornerbacks and safeties will get a chance to earn a lot of notice and respect against a dynamic Lowell passing attack on Friday night.

Senior quarterback Ryan Stevens and senior receiver Gabe Steed have combined to become on of the area’s most lethal passing duos. Stevens has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns – a large chunk of which have ended up in Steed’s hands.

“Steed is silky smooth when it comes to running choices routes,” Fairfield said. “That kid has an option to run a post or corner and the quarterback reads it.”

Lowell’s rushing attack is paced by tailback Max Dean, who punched in four touchdown runs against Byron Center in the district final. Dean has run for more than 600 yards, although updates stats were not available.

Lowell’s calling card, in addition to its readily apparent talent, is team chemistry sewn from growing up together in the classroom and across athletic fields.

“Our kids are pretty resilient and play a lot of sports and do a lot of things really well, including in the classroom,” Dean said. “The thing about our kids is football doesn’t define them – they kind of define football.

“It’s something they do for pleasure and for personal growth, but it certainly isn’t something they have to do to fulfill anything.”

The Lowell defense – led by Steed and Alex Anschutz – has had success forcing turnovers this season, but it will have its work cut out with the high-scoring Muskegon offense.

Led by quarterback dual-threat quarterback Kalil Pimpleton (113 yards passing vs. Mona Shores and 85 yards rushing) and slot receiver PP Copeland, the Big Red offense thrives on speed, misdirection and a multitude of options.

With Muskegon’s risky offense, ball security takes on extra importance, and the Big Reds had just one turnover (an interception) against Mona Shores last week.

Running back Jared Pittman and receiver Jacorey Sullivan will also contribute to the lightning-quick Big Red attack, which is sure to be tested by a pressure-happy Lowell defense.

Both teams feature offenses with the ability to score fast and score often. Time of possession and field position will be key for the winning side to keep in its favor.

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