By Mitchell Boatman
KENTWOOD – After a dominating 42-0 win over Battle Creek Harper Creek in the Division 3 state semifinals at East Kentwood High School on Saturday, Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield had just one question for his team:
“Where are you guys going next week?”
Without hesitation, his Big Reds responded: “Ford Field!”
It’s a destination the Big Reds know very well.
For the second year in a row, and the fifth time in six years, Muskegon will get the chance to play for a state football championship.
The Big Reds have dropped all four of their state title games in recent years – including a painful loss in the final seconds to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s last year – but will look to turn the tide and capture their first title since 2008 next weekend.
They will play Farmington Hills Harrison next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for the Division 3 championship. Harrison beat Riverview 21-0 in the other semifinal on Saturday.
“We’re going back to the ‘ship, it’s not easy,” Fairfield said. “We’re not going to quit doing what we do until we cap it off. “
Fairfield said he doesn’t see the title game as a shot at redemption, but as a chance to show what his team can do.
“We’re going in to play a football game, and have a little extra juice to try to put a cap on what we’ve done in the past,” he said.
Muskegon’s senior quarterback La’darius Jefferson, who led the offense on Saturday with five touchdowns (four rushing, one pass), said the chance to return to Ford Field and have another shot at a state title means a lot.
“I’m so proud of this team and the way we’ve fought,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been dreaming about since seventh grade.
“It has felt good, but I’m not done yet. I’ve said I’ll feel good and be done when there’s zeroes on the clock and we’re holding up a trophy.”
Fairfield said he’s expecting a stiff challenge from Farmington Hills Harrison, a traditional state power that has won 13 state titles, with the most recent coming in 2010.
“I know them from tradition,” the coach said. “I know Coach Harrington, it’s an honor to coach against him. I know from tradition what they do is a power-I (offensive formation). They have some really good athletes. It’s going to be an exciting football game.”
The Big Reds can probably count on having more of a challenge in the state title game than they did in Saturday’s semifinals.
They sent a signal to Battle Creek Harper Creek right away with a 44-yard touchdown run by Lonnie Clark Jr. on their first offensive play.
“It felt great,” Clark said. “I knew that this was going to be a good game for me after I busted out on that first play.”
“It was huge,” Fairfield said about the opening touchdown. “Anytime you can jump on them in these conditions, you’re able to start doing more things.
“He’s a missile,” the coach added about Clark. “He came through and had a great game for us. He’s a tough son-of-a-gun.”
Jefferson ran for two touchdowns in the first half, on a two-yard plunge and a 14-yard scamper. He added a 42-yard touchdown pass to Clinton Jefferson Jr. before halftime, his only pass completion of the game.
Muskegon led 28-0 at halftime.
Jefferson’s third touchdown run of the game, this time from 17 yards out, induced a running clock with 10:15 remaining in the third quarter. The Big Reds have had a running clock in each of their four playoff games.
Jefferson capped the scoring with a 38-yard touchdown run with three minutes remaining in the third quarter to make it 42-0.
Jefferson and company persevered through a steady rain in the semifinal, but look forward to an indoor game next week.
“It’s a mental game, we know that,” Jefferson said. “You fight through this for four quarters, then next week you’re in a dome. We were mentally prepared and we came out and played our game.”
The Muskegon defense once again played a huge role, recording their seventh shutout of the season.
“It comes down to their preparation,” Fairfield said of his defense. “They’re film junkies. We’re putting them in the right spots as a staff, but at the end of the day it comes down to the kids executing the game plan.”
Jefferson finished 170 yards on 15 carries, 42 yards on 1-for-3 passing and five total touchdowns.
Clark Jr. ran for 140 yards and a score on 12 attempts. Clinton Jefferson Jr. had the lone reception for a 42-yard touchdown. Demetrius Harris had an interception on defense.
Ali’Vonta Wallace was a big factor in stopping the run, racking up double-digit tackles for the Big Reds.