By Steve Gunn and Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Big Reds’ offense has been the talk of the state this season, for very good reasons.

The offense is averaging just over 54 points per game. The Big Reds have scored 652 points, just 29 shy of the school record set by last year’s squad.

But the Big Reds’ defense is pretty special in its own right.

That was evident to everyone last Saturday when Muskegon, ranked No. 1 in the state, handed Dewitt a 49-0 thrashing in the Division 3 regional championship game at Grand Haven High School.

The victory propelled the Big Reds (12-0) into Saturday’s state semifinals against Battle Creek Harper Creek at 1 p.m. at East Kentwood High School.

Leading the defensive effort against Dewitt was senior cornerback Willie Shanks, who had three interceptions, including one pick-six, and led the team with six tackles.

Dquarius Johnson flies through the air to down the Dewitt quarterback last week. Photo/Jason Goorman

He now has 10 picks on the season, two more than the previous single-season school record.

Paul Riley had four tackles for the Big Reds while Billie Roberts and Marvin Harwell had three apiece.

The Muskegon defense held Dewitt to minus-two yards rushing, intercepted five passes and registered six sacks.

The shutout was Muskegon’s sixth of the season.

“It was a great effort, starting with the coaches and the game plan,” Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield said about the defense.

“We were preparing right up to the last minute. We watched film on Friday night, then on Saturday morning, before we left for the game, we added another adjustment that ended up being a key part of our success.

“The kids adapted and played extremely fast, and it turned out to be a great day for all of us.”

As it turns out, the Big Red defenders are chasing a goal of their own. They have only given up 71 points through 12 games, and would like to surrender fewer points than the 2014 state champion Big Rids, who only gave up 124 in 14 games.

“(Shutouts) are always the goal for these kids,” Fairfield said. “They’ve been really driven. They want to do things that previous teams haven’t done.”

Davion Mccall rushes the ball as No. 78 Dquarius Johnson leads the way. Photo/Jason Goorman

With the Big Reds clicking on both sides of the ball, they have yet to be challenged in three playoff games. They’ve plowed past Holland, Zeeland West and Dewitt by a combined score of 151-20.

Fairfield admits he’s not particularly surprised by the results so far.

“We knew going in we had a really special group of kids,” the coach said. “I don’t know how often you have this sort of capability on offense, with the size on our line and La’darius (standout quarterback La’darius Jefferson) and all the other guys capable of putting a lot of points up.

“Defense was the only question, with only four starters back or so, but those guys are doing great. The other thing is that we’re healthy. We’ve only lost two young men all season.

“In high school football the key is having a little luck and staying healthy. When you have that, and an explosive group of kids, it’s a great formula.”

That doesn’t mean Fairfield and his staff are taking Battle Creek Harper Creek lightly.

The Beavers, ranked fourth in the state, are also 12-0 on the season. They were champions of the Interstate 8 Conference with a 7-0 record this fall, and have outscored opponents 378-211.

Harper Creek has struggled a bit more than Muskegon in the playoffs. The Beavers beat Coldwater 26-21 and Stevensville Lakeshore 42-24, then rallied with a late touchdown to beat East Lansing 16-13 in last week’s regional.

They’ve been in the playoffs eight times in the past 10 years. They lost the Division 3 state semifinals in 2011 and 2012. They have never made the state finals.

Beaver quarterback Jackson Malone has passed for more than 800 yards and rushed for more than 700 this season. Running backs Jalonty Harvey (866 total yards) and Noah Bauserman (590 yards) are both threats on the ground.

“We’re playing a team that’s 12-0 and not coming to lose,” Fairfield said. “They’ve been here before, but they haven’t won a state semifinal. What better way to shock the world than to beat the No. 1 team? We’re very aware of that and focused on that.”