By Mitchell Boatman
ALPINE TOWNSHIP – For the 17th consecutive season, the Muskegon football team has earned a spot in the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs.
The Big Reds captured their sixth victory of the season – the number necessary to qualify for the playoffs – with a 49-7 blowout victory on Friday over host Kenowa Hills in an O-K Black Conference game.
The victory was the latest in a string of big wins for the Big Reds, who have outscored their opponents 382-80 this season.
Muskegon, ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 3, is now 6-1 on the season and 5-0 in conference play.
After the latest win, Coach Shane Fairfield said he was grateful for the opportunity to lead the winningest program in state history.
“I’m honored to be the head coach of such a great program, a program with such high expectations,” he said.
Despite the lopsided victories his team has had lately, Fairfield believes the competition is still helping his players prepare for the playoffs.
“(Kenowa Hills) was a good team,” he said. “They were scrappy. Any time you play a team that’s playing for the love of the game, that makes them dangerous.”
As with most games, the Big Reds were heavily favored coming in. It can be easy to overlook opponents in those sutiatons, but Fairfield said he keeps his players focused with a simple question
“What have we done? What have we accomplished? Have we won the OK-Black championship? No we have not,” he said. “Don’t get full of yourselves. Stay humble. Stay hungry.”
The Big Reds didn’t play their best game on Friday, committing six turnovers and racking up over 100 yards in penalties. The fact that his team was still able to control the game was encouraging to Fairfield.
“To still put it together means we’re pretty good,” the coach said. “But the kids gotta understand you can’t live and die (like that). We’ve got to learn to play through adversity and I think we did that tonight.”
The Big Reds struck first in the opening quarter on a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kalil Pimpleton to Jacorey Sullivan. The extra point attempt hit the left upright and was no good, leaving Muskegon up 6-0.
Kenowa Hills responded with a scoring drive of its own. The Knights went for it on fourth down twice on the drive, with the second resulting in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Benito Hernandez to Dylan Mackey to take a 7-6 lead.
The Knights held the advantage through the end of the first quarter, putting Muskegon in an unfamiliar position. The Big Reds hadn’t trailed at the end of any quarter since their Week 2 loss to Stevenson, a top team from Illinois.
But the Muskegon defense got the Big Reds moving in the right direction.
Ali’Vonta Wallace recovered a fumble at the Kenowa Hills 22-yard line to set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Anthony Melton, Jr. with 10:08 to go in the first half.
Just 40 seconds later, Wallace got to Hernandez in the backfield and stripped the ball from the Knights’ quarterback, snagged it in the air, and dashed 33 yards for another score.
The Big Reds led 20-7 at halftime.
Andrew Ward scored from 10 yards out on Muskegon’s first possession of the third quarter, them Pimpleton added a 55-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, and the Big Reds led 34-7 headed into the fourth.
Muskegon added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard run by Raquis McDonald and a 29-yard pass from Pimpleton to Clinton Jefferson, Jr.
Wallace ended the game with eight tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a touchdown. Ward had 10 tackles to go with an interception and touchdown.
Pimpleton rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and threw for 50 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.