By Mitchell Boatman
NORTON SHORES — The injury bug bit the Mona Shores football team early and often this season.
For a lot of teams, that would spell doom.
It started when standout wide receiver and Western Michigan University commit Damari Roberson suffered a torn ACL in the offseason and had to miss his entire senior season.
That big blow proved to be just the beginning, as five other Sailors ended up sidelined with season-ending injuries.
“It’s awful,” said Mona Shores head coach Matt Koziak about the injury bug. “But it’s also a compliment to the other kids. We’ve always tried to have that next-man-up mentality. A lot of our kids haven taken that to heart, and our coaches have done a great job getting them ready to step into those roles.”
Despite losing so many players to injury, the Sailors have displayed their depth and dedication by putting up yet another great season. They are currently 11-1 and have played their way into Saturday’s Division 2 state semifinal game against Midland (9-3) at Grand Ledge High School at 1 p.m.
The winner advances to the state title game at Ford Field on Friday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. against the winner of Birmingham Groves (10-2) and Warren De La Salle (10-2).
De La Salle is the team that beat the Sailors in their first and only trip to the state finals, in 2014.
One key for Mona Shores is that a lot of kids who had injuries – not the season-ending type – are back and playing very well.
Tops on that list is senior running back Sincere Dent, who was limited with an ankle injury suffered against Jenison. Koziak said Dent, who has 1,228 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns this year, missed all or parts of four games after the injury, but will be healthy and ready to go Saturday.
“He’s doing great,” Koziak said. “He’s as 100 percent as he can be. It’s big to have a back like that. A lot of times there are defensive shifts and they stunt and we can’t block everybody. He can still break tackles and make us look good, even when we don’t block correctly.”
Despite all the bumps and bruises, Mona Shores has consistently lit up the scoreboard all season, leaving opposing defenders in their dust.
A major reason has been the emergence of quarterback Caden Broersma. In his first year as starter, the junior has made big play after big play, including a stellar performance last week where he totaled 319 yards and five touchdowns in a regional final victory over Portage Northern.
On the season, Broersma has 1,726 passing yards, 985 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns.
“I think Broersma has done a phenomenal job executing the offense,” Koziak said. “It’s a demanding job running an option offense, and he’s been lights out.
“We brought him up as a sophomore last year, but we didn’t think he was ready so we sent him back down to JV, and he had a great year and got better and better and better. He’s just been incredible.”
James Gilbert and Keyshawn Sandifer have emerged as major targets in the passing game in Roberson’s absence, with Gilbert breaking the school record for receiving yards with 1,307.
Koziak said his defense deserves credit for its performance as well, even though some teams have put up some big numbers against the Sailors.
“Those are teams that put up points against everyone they played,” he said. “Also, we have an offense that can score quick. What people don’t realize is that gives opposing offenses a lot more possessions and more chances to score.
“The defense against the run has been really good. With the exception of the Muskegon game, they’ve been stifling the run and making teams have to throw.”
The lone blemish for Mona Shores this season was a 55-35 loss to undefeated Muskegon, which has been a state championship favorite in Division 3 all year long. The loss cost the Sailors a shot at the O-K Black Conference title, but definitely did not wreck their season.
“That’s a tough game,” Koziak said. “It was a great test for the kids to play in a game like that – but we knew that game would not determine our season.”
The Sailors will face a Midland team that has played great football after a rough start to the season.
The Chemics started 0-2 with losses to Traverse City West and Flint Carman-Ainsworth. But since then Midland has won 9 of 10 games and six straight, including a 43-0 win over Walled Lake Western (8-4) in the regional round last week.
The Chemics are led by running back Christian Gordon, who has 1,408 yards and 20 scores on the ground this season. He also has 51 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions on the defensive side of the ball.
Quarterback Al Money is a dual-threat, with 921 passing yards, 412 rushing yards and 16 combined touchdowns. Tommy Johnstone is his top target, with 35 receptions for 408 yards and four TDs.