By Steve Gunn, Dave Hart and Mitchell Boatman
DETROIT – This was the moment Shane Fairfield had been working and waiting for.
But Fairfield and his players turned the tables on Saturday, overcoming an early deficit to down Farmington Hills Harrison 28-10 in the Division 3 state championship game.
Finally the coach who took all the heat for the defeats in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 could hoist the trophy, and he soaked up the moment.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” said Fairfield, who is now 87-18 in eight years as Muskegon’s head coach. “It’s something people always say, but I’m tellin’ ya, it’s really weird, I don’t know how I feel right now.
“When we get in that locker room and we start dancing like we have the last 13 weeks it’ll probably hit me that I’m a state champion.”
Finally winning a championship allows Fairfield to illustrate a point that he’s constantly stressing to his players – life sometimes brings losses, but continued effort pays off.
“The message could be heard by capping it off,” Fairfield said. “The bottom line is to prove to these kids that if you do stay true to the course, and you’re not afraid to keep getting kicked when things aren’t going well, that you’re going to come out on top at some point and time in your life.”
Fairfield said the pressure he received from the community over the past few years was nothing compared to the pressure he put on himself.
“I want to win for our community, I want to win for our kids,” he said. “That was our motto this week – W.I.N., which means what’s important now. I’ve got more pressure than any fan could put on me because I want to be so great for these players.”
Muskegon senior defensive end Eli Jackson, who had six tackles and two sacks in the game, was emotional after the victory.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jackson said. “I don’t even know what to say right now, but that it’s a dream come true and it’s unbelievable.
“It’s a long season and we really put in a lot of work and I am just speechless. These are my brothers and we have been doing this since we were little, and to win a state championship for our city and the class of 2017 is great.”
Jackson and many of his teammates clearly remember last season’s heartbreaking 29-28 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the state finals.
That loss occurred when St. Mary’s scored a touchdown with four seconds left.
“When you lose in the final seconds, that’s in your mind, and that play (from last season) was running through my mind the whole game,” Jackson said. “I don’t think anyone understands how much work we put into this.”
Jackson said it was special to finally gain a state title for Coach Fairfield.
“He is like my dad,” said Jackson. “That is one of the biggest accomplishments that I will have in my life – giving Coach Fairfield a state championship because he is the best coach that I have ever had, and I will ever have.”
Senior running back Davion McCall, who had several big runs for the Big Reds, was on cloud nine after the victory.
“It feels amazing,” McCall said. “Great. It still hasn’t hit me yet, I’m so amazed right now. We’re going to go back home, we’re legendary. We shattered a lot of records. We did a lot this year.
“I’m so thankful this happened my senior year.”
McCall gave a lot of credit to the Big Reds’ offensive line.
“Big time players make big time plays,” he said. “Those boys are big up front. That’s the best O-line in the state of Michigan. Without them none of this would be able to happen.”
McCall feels like the true emotions will hit him when he’s celebrating back home with his community.
“When we go back home and the city is rocking, we’re having a big ol’ party,” he said. “That’s when it’s going to hit me. Us winning this, it’s going to bring positivity to our community. It’s going to bring the community together.”