By Steve Gunn and Jason Goorman

PORTAGE – The Mona Shores football team knew Portage Northern had two really good running backs who were going to pile up some yards.

The Sailors also knew they had playmakers of their own who could keep up with the Huskies.

The key was finding a way to get their defense to bend but not break, after it broke quite a bit in the first half. That finally happened in the second half, when Mona Shores somehow stopped the bleeding and kept the home team off the scoreboard.

That set the stage for senior Kolbe Trovinger, who took a pitchout from quarterback Caden Broersma and ran 64 yard yards for the winning touchdown in the third quarter, giving the Sailors a thrilling 28-23 come-from-behind victory in a Division 2 regional championship game on Friday on the Huskies home field.

Kolbe Trovinger runs around the end after receiving a block from No. 2 Tre Hatcher. Photo/Eric Sturr

Mona Shores, 10-2 on the season, now advances to the state semifinals, with a chance to play in the Division 3 state finals for the second year in a row. They will face Walled Lake Western next weekend, at a date and time to be determined.

“I will be interested to see what (Northern’s) rushing yards were,” said a jubilant Mona Shores Coach Matt Koziak after the game. “Their backs are really good. But they didn’t score in the second half, which was huge. Wins are great, but the way these kids have won in the playoffs, it’s just crazy. They find a way to win for each other.”

The game did not look promising for the Sailors in the first half, particularly the first quarter, mostly because they couldn’t stop the Huskies’ talented running back tandem of Tyler Amos and Anthony Tyus, and couldn’t keep Portage Northern out of the end zone.

The Huskies scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game and built a commanding 20-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Mona Shores quarterback Caden Broersma gets ready to hand the ball off to Tre Hatcher. Photo/Eric Sturr

The Sailors kept pace, collecting a three-yard touchdown run from Broersma and a six-yard scoring dash by Keondre Pierce, and only trailed 20-14 midway through the second quarter.

But they had to find a way to stop the Huskies’ touchdown express, and that finally happened just before halftime.

Portage Northern drove to the Sailor 8-yard line with 20 seconds remaining, but a holding penalty drove them back to the 22, and they had to settle for a 39-yard field goal as time ran out. That gave the Huskies a 23-14 lead at the break, but ended their touchdown streak and gave Mona Shores fresh hope.

The Sailors took the momentum and scored on the opening possession of the second half. The key play on the drive came when Broersma connected with Pierce on a 44-yard pass, putting the ball at the Northern 29-yard line.

Six plays later Broersma plunged in from a yard out, and the extra point pulled Mona Shores within two points, 23-21.

Portage Northern was not done moving the ball. On the first play from scrimmage on the next possession, Amos spun out of several tackles and broke loose for a 70-yard gain to the Mona Shores 15, and it looked like the Sailors were in trouble again

But five plays later Northern faced a fourth-and-4 at the Mona Shores 9, and a host of Sailors dropped quarterback Nick Henegar short of the first-down marker, giving the visitors their second crucial stop.

The Sailors quickly took the lead for good on their next possession, despite starting deep in their own territory. First Broersma had a 23-yard scamper on third-and-5 to keep the drive alive, then Trovinger took a pitch from the QB on the very next play and broke up the sideline for his 64-yard score.

“It was just an adrenaline rush,” said Trovinger, who totaled 96 yards on six carries and contributed nine tackles on defense. “I didn’t think I could run that fast. I made one guy miss and I just took off. I was thinking I didn’t want to get caught, I can’t get caught, because we need this touchdown right here.

“Our team motto is grit, and we showed a lot of grit tonight and came back and won this one.”

The extra point gave Mona Shores its final margin of victory, but the game was far from over, because the Sailor defense still had work to do.

The Huskies took the kickoff and drove to the Mona Shores 15 early in the fourth quarter. They faced a crucial fourth-and-3 with 8:25 remaining, and Henegar threw to a wide open receiver in the end zone, but he somehow managed to drop the ball, and the Sailors took over on downs.

Mona Shores punted on its next possession, and a face mask penalty a few plays later gave Northern the ball at the Sailor 32. The Huskies faced a do-or-die fourth-and-6 at the Mona Shores 34, but another incomplete pass ended the drive with 2:59 remaining.

Mona Shores took over at its own 34, gained a first down, and was able to kill the clock, seal the victory, and head to the Division 2 state semifinals for the second straight season.

Broersma finished with 63 yards rushing and completed 5 of 8 passes for 123 yards. Tre Hatcher added 46 yards rushing and Pierce had two receptions for 80 yards.

Brady Rose led the Mona Shores defense with 12 tackles, Cam Sobish added eight and Logan Hekkema had seven.

Amos finished with 157 yards rushing and one touchdown for Portage Northern, while Tyus ran for 131 yards and a score.

“Going into halftime we knew we had to stop their run game for sure, and we made a couple adjustments on the defensive line,” Broersma said. “In the second half on offense, we kind of went up-tempo and tried to wear them down. That really showed with our two quick scoring drives, and we managed to get up on them in the fourth quarter.

“Adversity hits and we have to respond, they have to respond, and I think we responded better than they did.”