By Mitchell Boatman
ZEELAND – In their most complete performance of the season so far, the Muskegon Big Reds proved they can be every bit as dominating as they have been in years past with a 42-20 win over Zeeland East Friday night.
The game wasn’t as close as the final score might imply. The Big Reds led 49-7 with under four minutes to play before a pair of late touchdowns by the Chix made the scoreboard look a little more respectable.
Muskegon was efficient on offense, limiting turnovers and penalties, and stout on defense with good tackling and takeaways.
Head coach Shane Fairfield said his team is starting to scratch the surface of how good it can be.
“We’re still working on getting healthy, on getting our groove and our swag,” Fairfield said. “We’re getting closer and closer to it. We’re not where we want to be, but man what a performance in those first three quarters and eight minutes (of the fourth).
“I was very happy and very proud. For those first three quarters and eight minutes, my team wowed me.”
The Big Red defense was stingy for much of the game, allowing just 257 yards of offense and forcing two turnovers in the red zone. Fairfield credited Je’Lynn Fox with controlling the edge and allowing a talented secondary to go to work.
“Fox was an unsung hero tonight,” the coach said. “He’s a strong side D-end. He played his heart out. (Zeeland) likes to roll and get outside for those flood routes. Je’Lynn really battled all night. He wasn’t going to get a tackle or a sack, he knew his job was to move the pile and make that tackle work. That’s the kid on the defensive side that helped our DBs play the game that they played.”
Muskegon struck first on a 14-yard touchdown run by Jacarri Kitchen on the team’s first possession.
Zeeland East went three-and-out on the next drive, leading to a punt. Damari Foster attempted to field the ball in stride for Muskegon, but it hit his knee and launched forward. Foster managed to sprint ahead, pick up the ball on the move and return it 70-plus yards for a score, making it 14-0 Big Reds with 8:21 to play in the first quarter.
“I was looking it in and I was in stride already,” Foster said. “My knee hit the ball and popped it out. Luckily it was right in front of me and I just stayed on it, picked it up and took off. When I got it, I saw an open field and I just took off.”
The Chix got on the board on their next drive when quarterback Ethan Houghtaling found Sam Cochran for an 11-yard touchdown pass, making the score 14-7.
But the Big Reds rattled off 21 unanswered points in the second quarter, thanks in large part to quarterback Amari Crowley. The senior ran in a 15-yard score, threw a 74-yard touchdown to Kitchen on a screen pass, and found Jeremiaus Evans for a nine-yard scoring toss on fourth down.
Muskegon led 35-7 at the half.
After a Muskegon punt to open the second half, the Chix marched down field and appeared ready to get back in the game. But the 12-play, 67-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock ended with Foster intercepting a pass in the end zone.
On the very next play, Crowley sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown, making the score 42-7 with 4:13 to play in the third.
Zeeland East moved the ball again on its next drive, but the Big Reds stood strong at the goal line, forcing a fumble on a third down run from the one and recovering for a touchback.
Kitchen ran in a 44-yard score on the ensuing drive to make it 49-7.
A long kick return set the Chix up for their second touchdown, a four-yard pass from Houghtaling to Cochran, to make it 49-14 with 3:20 to play. The Big Reds fumbled on the next possession, setting up another Houghtaling to Cochran touchdown, making it 49-20 with 48 seconds left.
Crowley threw for 194 yards and two scores, while rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Kitchen had 132 yards rushing, 81 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Jonathon Adams and Dametrius Walker both had seven tackles for Muskegon while Tyrese Oakes and Meshaune Crowley each had six. Oakes also recovered a fumble.