By Dave Hart

NORTON SHORES – The word resilience sums up Mona Shores’ performance in its Division 2 playoff opener on Friday night.

The Sailors had many chances to put the game away early on, but still nursed a six-point lead during the final minutes of the game.

Forest Hills Central had the ball on the Mona Shores 29-yard line with a chance to take a late lead, until the Sailors stood tall with two sacks and an interception by James Gilbert to seal a 34-28 victory in pre-districts.

The Sailors will host the winner of Saturday’s Jenison-Traverse City Central game in the Division 2 district finals next weekend.

“They have some really good players,” said Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak about Forest Hills Central. “I am super proud of our defense. The kids were resilient. They could have crumbled when things went bad. It was a hell of a first round.”

Mona Shores’ James Gilbert makes the catch in stride and takes it in for the score. Photo/Eric Sturr

Sailors starting quarterback Caden Broersma showed a lot of resilience by coming back into the game after missing two offensive possessions with an apparent back injury that occurred during the first drive of the game.

Broersma ended up rushing for 104 yards on 12 carries and threw for 75 yards on 4-for-6 passing.

“I saw him on the sideline wincing, and he found a way, just like some of the other players on our team who have been banged up all season long,” Koziak said of Broersma.

Mona Shores opened the scoring on the first play of the game with a 93-yard kick return touchdown by Ke’Sean Sandifer. The extra point made it 7-0.

The Sailors increased their lead to 14-0 on their first offensive possession, which ended with a four-yard touchdown run by Sincere Dent with 9:08 left in the first quarter.

Forest Hills Central cut its deficit to 14-7, scoring on the second play of the second quarter on a 17-yard connection from quarterback Luke Majick to Cameron Deines.

Mona Shores responded on its next possession with an 80-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown scamper by Dent. That gave the Sailors a 21-7 advantage with 8:03 left in the second quarter.

The Rangers punched back on the ensuing kickoff with an 84-yard touchdown return by Jackson Clay to cut Mona Shores’ lead to 21-14.

The Sailors regained their 14-point edge just three plays later on a 17-yard touchdown run by Dent.

Mona Shores led 28-14 at halftime.

Sincere Dent fends off would be tacklers and rumbles in for the Mona Shores touchdown. Photo/Eric Sturr

The Rangers cut the deficit to 28-21 on their first possession of the second half after a nine-yard touchdown run by Majick.

The Sailors responded with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Broersma to Gilbert, but failed on the extra point.

Forest Hills Central cut the deficit to 34-28 on a six-yard run by Majick with 6:07 left in the third quarter.

The Sailors had a chance to increase their lead during the fourth quarter, but turned the ball over on downs inside the Ranger 10-yard line early in the fourth.

Mona Shores regained possession after recovering a fumble on the Ranger 19-yard line, but then fumbled inside the three-yard line with 6:31 left in the game.

The Rangers turned the ball over on downs with five minutes left, but once again the Sailors failed to capitalize, giving Forest Hills Central one more chance with three minutes remaining.

The Rangers managed to get the ball inside the Sailor 30 before Mona Shores shut the door with two sacks and the interception.

The Sailors were led offensively by Dent with 149 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries while Tre’Shawn Hatcher ran for 110 yards on 14 carries.

Mona Shores was led defensively by Jacob Wahlberg with five tackles.