By Mitchell Boatman
GRAND HAVEN – For the sixth year in a row, the Muskegon Big Reds are district champions.
“I’m excited that the kids continue to be so resilient,” said Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield. “For them to get the experience and understand the importance of (at district title), and to win another one is a great accomplishment.”
Fairfield added that the long annual playoff runs, while fun and exciting, can be exhausting.
“That’s the upside of it, the experience, not being in awe of playoff games,” he said. “The downside is, man it’s tiring. You have the side of ‘Well, we’ve won it before, so we’ll just win this one.’
“We have to keep that hunger inside of us.”
Leading the way for the unbeaten Big Reds once again was La’darius Jefferson. The senior quarterback attempted just five passes, but accounted for 280 total yards and five touchdowns, mostly on the ground.
“When we have a 300-pound line and a 250-pound quarterback, why waste downs when we’re going forward?” Fairfield said. “We figured why risk throwing it and getting a pick when we are getting positive (yards) going forward?”
Zeeland West appeared ready to give Muskegon a fight early on. The Dux needed just 1:46 to march down and score on the opening possession of the game. Chase Peddie broke through the Muskegon defense for a 49-yard touchdown to make it 6-0.
The Big Reds didn’t trail for long. Jefferson threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Deandre Carter on fourth down on Muskegon’s opening drive. It was one of just two completions for Jefferson.
Muskegon extended its lead to 14-6 on a Lonnie Clark Jr. touchdown run of three yards. Clark and Jefferson each added a touchdown run, from 17 and 11 yards, respectively, before the half to make it 28-6.
The Dux pulled with 28-14 on a three-yard score from Dimitri Maly and a two-point run by Carson Gulker early in the third quarter.
Just when it seemed like Zeeland West had life after a defensive stop, Muskegon’s Willie Shanks Jr. shut the door with a big defensive play. The senior defensive back intercepted a pass and returned it 41 yards for a score to deflate the Dux’ comeback hopes with 2:31 to play in the third.
“He’s been such a heart and soul of our defense,” said Fairfield, who added that Shanks is closing in on the school interception record. “He’s been our pick guy all year long.”
Jefferson added two more touchdown runs in the fourth. The first was a one-yard plunge and the second a long 50-yard scamper.
Hunter Anderson scored the Dux’ third touchdown on a 58-yard run.
The win for Muskegon sets up a matchup with Dewitt in the regional round next week.
“Great coach, great program, they play great football over there,” Fairfield said about Dewitt. “It’s going to be a heck of a game. They bring a lot to the table. I think it’s a good style for us to match up against.”
The location of the game has yet to be determined. Field conditions at Muskegon’s Hackley Stadium, which prompted the move to Grand Haven on Friday, will be monitored throughout the week.
Jefferson had 243 yards on 25 carries and five total scores. Clinton Jefferson had 83 yards on just six rushes. Clark ran for 24 yards and two touchdowns on his six attempts.
Defensively, Ali’Vonta Wallace tallied 12 tackles for the Big Reds while Eli Jackson had seven stops and one sack.