By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Big Reds can finally add another conference championship to their long list of football accomplishments.
The Big Reds had not won a league title since 2013. But that streak was snapped on Friday with a 63-17 thrashing of Jenison at Hackley Stadium that clinched the O-K Black Conference crown.
“It means a lot because it’s one that has avoided us,” said Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield. “I know sometimes we kind of play it off because we’re so driven to win the districts, regionals, and get to the state championship.”
The playoffs should go well for Muskegon if it keeps getting strong performances from La’darius Jefferson and Kalil Pimpleton, their two quarterbacks and top offensive threats.
Jefferson finished with 78 yards passing and 79 yards rushing for a total of 157 yards against Jenison, while Pimpleton had 93 yards passing and 85 yards rushing for 178 total yards.
“It’s fun because a lot of people might think this person should start or this person should start,” said Jefferson about the team’s dual quarterback system. “For me it’s so fun because I know I’m getting better from someone who is a great player and person.”
Not everything clicked at the beginning of the game for Muskegon.
Jenison took the opening drive 74 yards on nine plays to take a 7-0 lead. The drive was capped when quarterback Kyle Nott found Ben Dieterle with a five-yard touchdown pass.
Jenison’s defense then forced a Pimpleton fumble, and the Wildcats appeared to have the momentum.
But the Big Red defense stopped Jenison on downs at the Muskegon 27. Two plays later, Da’vion Mccall ran 64 yards down the sideline to tie the game at 7-7.
The score remained knotted until 10:26 of the second quarter when Jefferson threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jacorey Sullivan on a slant pattern, putting the Big Reds up 14-7.
Muskegon scored again less than four minutes later when Jefferson broke multiple tackles on a 56-yard rushing touchdown that put the Big Reds ahead 20-7.
“It’s crazy, I really don’t know what was happening,” said Jefferson about his impressive run. “I broke the pocket and bounced off the first defender, then like three at once and spun. I just saw green and I still don’t know how it happened.”
Muskegon went ahead 27-7 with 5:05 left in the half when Pimpleton threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Clinton Jefferson Jr.
Jenison kicker Alex Krombeen made a 32-yard field goal just before halftime to make the score 27-10 at the break.
Mccall busted loose for a 72-yard touchdown run on Muskegon’s first play of the second half to put the Big Reds ahead 34-10.
Two rushing touchdowns from Andrew Ward – one from five yards out, the other a one-yard plunge – gave Muskegon a 49-10 edge after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, Pimpleton found the end zone on a 38-yard run to put Muskegon ahead 56-10 with 8:31 to play.
Brycin Alexander scored a 27-yard touchdown for Jenison, then Muskegon’s Taylor Smith finished the scoring with a six-yard rushing touchdown.
Ali’Vonta Wallace led the Muskegon defense with 11 tackles while Ward added 10.
After the victory, Faifield said he was happy with a conference championship, but already had playoff football on the mind. The Big Reds will learn Sunday night whether they will compete in Division 2 or 3 in the postseason.
“Either way, if we’re in Division 2 or 3, if you get to continue to play, you’re a pretty good football team,” Fairfield said. “I don’t think it really matters either way. We always look to be in Division 2 because we want to be in the higher categories with the biggest and best.”