By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – A big crowd of West Michigan Ironmen fans showed up at L.C. Walker Arena on Saturday night to see just how good the 2019 squad might be.

But there was no real way to tell, because the opening-night opponents, the Illinois Renegades, were really, really bad.

The Ironmen scored almost at will against the hapless Renegades, taking a 27-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, 47-0 at halftime and 72-0 after three quarters.

At the merciful end the score was 95-0 in favor of West Michigan.

Ironmen Coach Nate Smith noted that Illinois is not a member of the American Arena League, which the Ironmen joined this season, and that league opponents are likely to pose much more of a challenge.

The Ironmen will open their AAL schedule March 30 at home against the Indianapolis Enforcers.

“Sometimes you play a level of competition that’s maybe beneath where you want to be, but I was proud that our players remained focused and didn’t take plays off,” Smith said.

It was obvious from the get-go that the Ironmen, who have 16 players back from last year’s championship team, would get no competition from Illinois.

The Renegades kicked off to start the game, the ball only went 11 yards, and West Michigan’s Daryl Gooden returned it to the Illinois 3-yard line. Dakota Smith scored on a three-year run on the first play from scrimmage, and the romp was on.

The visitors appeared to have several major problems. The first was that their center had a very difficult time hiking the ball to the quarterback, who dropped back into the shotgun formation every play. Many of the snaps actually rolled on the ground to the QB, who had to pick it up and scramble.

BJ Foy moves the ball up field for West Michigan. Photo/Leo Valdez

He never got very far before he was creamed by the Ironmen defense.

Perhaps Illinois’ biggest issue was the lack of a punter. On four different occasions in the first half alone, the Renegades went for it on fourth-and-long, and failed to convert each time. The Ironmen took possession and scored each time.

Illinois’ other two first half possessions ended in an interception and a lost fumble – both of which also led to West Michigan touchdowns.

The Ironmen ran 10 offensive plays in the first half and scored touchdowns on seven.

The second half was more of the same.

The Ironmen kicked off and tackled the Illinois receiver in the end zone and got a point. On the same possession, the Illinois quarterback was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

On West Michigan’s first play from scrimmage, backup quarterback Travis Zajkowski threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Damien Moore.

On the ensuing kickoff, Illinois fumbled and the DJ Foy recovered in the end zone for another Ironmen touchdown. And so it went.

The Ironmen had 10 offensive plays in the second half and scored touchdowns on five.

Starting quarterback Alex Carder threw for 65 yards on 4-for-5 passing and three touchdowns while Carrington Thompson Sr. caught two passes for 45 yards and one touchdown.

Michael Malushi paced the Ironmen with 49 rushing yards on four carries and one touchdown while Smith ran for 27 yards on seven carries and four scores.

The Ironmen were led defensively by Zach Watts with five tackles.

Ironmen wide receiver Michael Malushi. Photo/Leo Valdez

Scoring summary
(Time after each score denotes time left in quarter)

First quarter
WM 13:56-Dakota Smith 3-yard run (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-7 Ill-0
WM 8:29-Alex Carder 5-yard run (kick failed)  WM-13 Ill-0
WM 4:44-Dakota Smith 2-yard run (kick failed)  WM-19 Ill-0
WM 1:26-Daryl Gooden 27-yard catch from Alex Carder (Kyle Connors run)  WM-27 Ill-0


Second quarter
WM 11:46-Carrington Thompson Sr. 28-yard catch from Alex Carder (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-34 Ill-0
WM 6:45-Dakota Smith 8-yard run (kick failed)  WM-40 Ill-0
WM 1:38-Carrington Thompson Sr. 17-yard catch from Alex Carder (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-47 Ill-0


Third quarter
WM 15:00-Tackle in end zone on kickoff  WM-48 Ill-0
WM 12:54-Team Safety (Ryan Armstrong) WM-50 Ill-0
WM 9:20-Damien Moore 33-yard catch from Travis Zakowski (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-57 Ill-0
WM 8:24-B.J. Foy recovered fumbled kickoff in end zone (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-64 Ill-0
WM :55–Dakota Smith 1-yard run (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-71 Ill-0
WM :43-Tackle in end zone on kickoff  WM-72 Ill-0


Fourth quarter
WM 13:50-Team Safety (Nick Dekraker)  WM-74 Ill-0
WM 11:22- B.J. Foy 38-yard kick return (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-81 Ill-0
WM 6:02-Nick Dekraker recovered fumble in end zone (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-88 Ill-0
WM 1:00–Michael Malishi 8-yard run (Ronald Hotrum kick)  WM-95 Ill-0