By Steve Gunn
GRAND HAVEN – The Muskegon Big Reds like to be pushed and challenged occasionally, at least for part of a game.
Not surprisingly the Big Reds, ranked first in the state in Division 3, adjusted to the Red Hawks’ deceptive wing-t offense and ended up running away with a 48-10 victory in a district championship game at Grand Haven High School.
Standout quarterback Cameron Martinez again led the way with 223 yards rushing and four touchdowns, including scoring runs of 72 and 52 yards.
Muskegon has now won eight consecutive district titles.
For Coach Shane Fairfield and his team, facing a bit of adversity was a nice wake-up call. It hasn’t happened very much for the Big Reds, who are now 11-0 on the season and have outscored opponents 561-75.
“That’s the first time,” said Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield about being challenged early in the game. “I think going into this game we were 64-0 in the first quarter. It was good for us to understand that it can happen, and good to know we can trail and overcome. Each game, each team, each week make you better.”
The temporary challenge was also good preparation for next Saturday, when Muskegon will play East Grand Rapids at 1 p.m. at Grand Haven in a regional championship game. Of all the teams the Big Reds have played in recent years, the Pioneers have been among the most troublesome.
The Big Reds had to fight to beat them 42-35 last season in the playoffs, and 28-23 earlier this year.
Fairfield thinks his team and the Pioneers may be the two best left in the Division 3 state playoffs, and he fully expects another battle.
“They are a good team,” the coach said. “They are well-coached and they play hard. It’s going to be one heck of a test. I called it before, but I think the team that comes out of that game will end up playing for a state championship. It may be a little bold, but that’s the respect I have for this region.
“I think we both know that we’re probably the two best teams still playing.”
There was a sense of surprise on Saturday when Cedar Springs took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in seven plays for the first score of the game. Aiden Brunin ended the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, and the extra point gave the Red Hawks a 7-0 lead.
The Big Reds answered right away with a 12-play, 79-yard drive of their own to tie things up. A key play came on third-and-13 from Muskegon’s 47, when senior running back Tommy Watts broke loose for a 24-yard run, putting the call at the Cedar Springs 21.
Martinez scored from three yards out five plays later, and the PAT made it 7-7.
Cedar Springs continued to pose problems on the ensuing kickoff, when Henry Duncan took a handoff around the 20-yard line from the teammate who field the ball and raced to the Muskegon 10-yard line.
But the Big Red defense toughened up at that point, holding Cedar Springs to a 29-yard field goal.
Muskegon took the lead for good two plays into its next possession, when Martinez got loose for a 52-yard touchdown run, and the successful extra point made the score 14-10.
The Big Reds scored again just before halftime, after a short Cedar Springs punt gave them the ball at their own 45.
Watts ran for a gain of 23 yards, Martinez added 14 yards, then Watts stuck again with a 29-yard scoring burst with 48 seconds left 0n the clock. Muskegon went into the locker room with a 21-10 advantage.
A key point of the game came early in the second half, when Muskegon had a short punt on the first possession that left Cedar Springs with the ball at the Big Red 31. The Red Hawks faced a fourth-and-one at the 22, but Muskegon’s Tarran Walker stuffed Cedar Springs quarterback Jeremy Campione for a loss on the play, and the Big Reds got the ball back.
Two plays later Martinez exploded for a 72-yard touchdown run, and the Big Reds led 28-10.
Robert Gee Jr. added a 22-yard touchdown run later in the third quarter, then Martinez (8 yards) and Japrie Henderson (14 yards) put the finishing touches on the win with fourth-quarter scores.
Henderson finished with 88 yards on the ground while Watts totaled 79. Amari Crawley caught two passes for Muskegon for 52 yards.
Walker led the Big Red defense with 13 tackles while Tyreese Oakes added 11 and Julius Sims recorded nine.
After the game, Watts said it was important for the Big Reds to be in a tough game, particularly after a very easy win last week in the playoff opener.
“Due to the last couple of games we had, the team was getting a little big lazy,” Watts said. “It’s been a while since we played anybody that good, so it was good for the team.”