By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Big Reds had their chance at a conference championship hanging in the balance with 1:49 left in the game on Friday night.

After the Big Red defense stopped a Zeeland West drive near midfield, the Dux punted the ball away on fourth-and-three from the Muskegon 46-yard line.

Miles Walton returns a punt 95 yards for a Big Reds touchdown. Photo/Craig Smith

Muskegon junior Myles Walton fielded the punt at his own 5, took off up the middle, found the left sideline and picked up some blockers, then raced 95 yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 14-14 with 1:29 left.

The extra point was good, and Muskegon escaped with a thrilling come-from-behind 15-14 victory over Zeeland West at Hackley Stadium in an O-K Green conference showdown.

The Big Reds, now 4-1, will complete their regular season next week when they travel to Grand Rapids Union. With a win, and a Mona Shores loss, the Big Reds would tie with Zeeland West and the Sailors for first place in the O-K Green.

“I knew if I was to go outside and cut back in, I’d have an opening,” said Walton about his dramatic touchdown. “I saw my teammates waiting on me, and the glory was right there.”

The victory was not quite on ice, even after the punt return and extra point.

Zeeland West took the kickoff and picked up a first down, before attempting a 52-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game.

The ball reached the end zone and bounced off two Muskegon defenders, giving Zeeland West’s Terick DeJonge a chance to catch the pass.

Adrian Ramos kicks the game-winning PAT for Muskegon. Photo/Craig Smith

DeJonge looked like he might have caught the ball, but it was ruled incomplete, and Muskegon’s final lead held up.

“I thought it was good,” said Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield about the last play. “I don’t know how he dropped it. We had two guys back there and we tipped it. Tonight, the football gods were on our side.”

The Big Reds literally swiped victory from the jaws of defeat, because they trailed 14-0 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

The Dux scored all of their points in the first quarter.

Gulker scored on a 2-yard yard touchdown run with 3:50 left in the quarter, then threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to DeJonge with 36 seconds left.

The second quarter was scoreless and Zeeland West led 14-0 at halftime.

The Big Reds could have been in real trouble, but their defense held strong with 43 seconds left in the first half, forcing Zeeland West to turn the ball over on downs at the Muskegon 4-yard line.

The third quarter was scoreless, then the Big Reds went to work late in the fourth.

Facing fourth-and-1 on the Zeeland West seven-yard line, Muskegon quarterback Amari Crowley picked up a bad snap and ran to the left side, then broke free for a touchdown with just 2:45 remaining.

A successful two-point conversion cut the Muskegon deficit to 14-8.

Following four unsuccessful onside kicks due to multiple penalties on the Big Reds, Zeeland West took over at its own 47 with 2:45 left.

Muskegon ultimately forced a three-and-out, which resulted in the dramatic punt return by Walton.

Crowley led the Muskegon offense with 59 yards on 8-for-9 passing, along with 33 yards rushing on 12 carries. Damari Foster had 32 yards on one rush while also totaling 29 receiving yards on two catches.

Zeeland West was led by Gulker, who totaled 104 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries while also passing for 107 yards and one touchdown.

The Muskegon defense was led by Jonathan Adams with 14 tackles.

“We gave up two first quarter scores, then we shut them out for three quarters, so we’re very pleased with how we settled in,” Fairfield said.

“We learned not to give up, which was the best thing we could’ve learned. We were gonna get better for this either way. We need these type of games.”