By Mitchell Boatman
MUSKEGON — It’s only fitting that a new era at historic Hackley Stadium began with an instant classic.
The Sailors spoiled the opening with a thrilling 21-14 victory, avenging a stinging 53-0 loss to the Big Reds last season.
“The win alone feels great,” said Mona Shores head coach Matt Koziak. “I can’t say (last year’s game) wasn’t in the mind of our coaches and kids, but we wanted to focus on 2020 and how our kids were going to play today.
“Obviously that was in the back of our minds, there’s no denying it. Regardless of that, this is a great football team and we wanted to come out here and win the game.”
The Sailors were powered yet again by senior quarterback Brady Rose. The “Swiss Army knife,” as Koziak calls him, threw for 118 yards and a pair of scores, ran for 105 yards and another score, led the team with 10 tackles, and had the victory-sealing interception with 28 seconds left to play.
“He doesn’t leave the field,” Koziak said about Rose’s all-purpose skills. “He’s our starting quarterback, starting free safety, he returns punts, he holds for PATs. If that’s not a Mr. Football candidate, I don’t know what is.
“He’s not going to throw for 4,000 yards, he’s not going to rush for 2,000 yards. But he’s going to be a Swiss Army knife and he’s going to be our best player at every position he’s at.”
For Muskegon, penalties and turnovers doomed the offense and made it difficult to sustain drives.
“Turnovers and penalties in a good game against a good team, you can’t do it,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “We gave up a big one on the first (drive) of the game. We get a big run, then we spike the ball and come back for unsportsmanlike. Then we get two five-yard penalties and we have to punt. We’ve just got to get out of our own way. We’ve got to get better.”
Mona Shores took a 14-0 lead into halftime before Muskegon roared back after the break to tie the score at 14-14 with 9:12 to play.
The Big Reds had the ball and the momentum with 7:18 to play, but a costly turnover gave the Sailors possession at their own 41 yard line.
Five plays later, Rose took off up the middle, bounced to the outside and dove inside the pylon for the go-ahead score with 4:49 left to put Mona Shores up 21-14.
“I went up the middle, then I cut back,” Rose said of the winning score. “The cut back is pretty much always open. I saw the receiver hook the corner and the safety coming down, I knew I had to get it. The ref put his hands up and it was unbelievable.”
After a three-and-out from both teams, Muskegon took over at its own 32 with 1:39 to play. The Big Reds converted a big fourth down when quarterback Amari Crowley escaped pressure and threw a heave to the middle of the field, which was hauled in by a leaping Jeremiah Dault to keep the drive alive.
But two plays later, Crowley fired deep downfield and was intercepted by Rose at the six-yard-line. With Muskegon out of time outs, Mona Shores took a knee on the next play to end the game.
The win is the first at Hackley Stadium for Mona Shores since 2014, when it had a future professional player in Tyree Jackson at quarterback. Muskegon hadn’t lost a game in the regular season since 2016, a string of 35 straight wins.
Muskegon started the game with the ball and was moving downfield before Crowley lost a fumble, which was recovered by Mona Shores’ Bryce Sikkenga.
On the very next play, Mona Shores scored the first points on Hackley’s new turf with a 43-yard pass from Rose to Demetri Roberson to take a 7-0 lead with 10:49 to play in the first quarter.
The teams traded punts over the next several possessions until the Sailors found the end zone again with 2:37 left in the first half. Rose threw his second touchdown pass, this one on a bubble screen to Elijah Farnum for a 19-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
The Sailors received the ball to start the second half and marched downfield, but on a fourth down from the Muskegon 20, Tyreese Oakes intercepted a pass from Rose to end the drive.
Muskegon took the momentum from the turnover and translated it into an 80-yard scoring drive, capped by an 18-yard touchdown run by Crowley. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 14-6 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
Mona Shores punted on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving Muskegon the ball at their own 23-yard-line. Five plays later, running back Jacarri Kitchen broke free on a run up the middle and broke loose for a 49-yard touchdown. Crowley ran in the two-point try to even the score 14-14.
After another Sailor punt, Crowley lost a fumble on Muskegon’s next drive, leading to Rose’s winning touchdown run.
Crowley led Muskegon with 124 rushing yards and 66 passing yards, while Kitchen totaled 75 yards rushing. Julius Sims was the leading Big Red receiver with 51 yards. Jonathan Adams led the defense with 10 tackles.
Elijah Johnson ran for 48 yards on eight carries for Mona Shores. Gary Humphrey has seven tackles for the Sailors while D.J. Caviness added six.