By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The good news for Muskegon fans is that their Big Reds won their ninth consecutive district championship on Saturday, and did so in pretty convincing fashion.

It was obvious again that Muskegon has the same type of explosiveness that it’s had in recent years, and could easily keep winning and make a fifth straight appearance in the state football finals.

Muskegon QB Amari Crowley makes a cut on a long gain. Photo/Tim Reilly

Perhaps the biggest star was running back Jacarri Kitchen, who diced up the visiting defense all day and rushed for 217 yards as the Big Reds beat Marquette 47-21 in a Division 3 district title game at Hackley Stadium.

Quarterback Amari Crowley had another great outing, passing for 127 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 135 yards and a TD.

Myles Walton also made his presence known by scoring three touchdowns, including one on a 65-yard punt return. Tyreese Oakes had a 72-yard pick-six, and junior Jeremiah Dault led the receivers with four catches for 65 yards, including a touchdown.

“Dault is a heck of a receiver for us,” said Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield, whose 8-1 team will host East Grand Rapids next Saturday in a regional championship game. “He’s a little undersized, but he’s big at heart.

“Myles Walton is a game-changer, Tyreese Oakes is a consistent weapon for us, and Julius Sims is too. I’m very happy with the way we spread the ball around. And all of it means that the guys on the edge are doing a great job of blocking and being selfless. We’re getting better every week.”

On the worrisome side (if there could be any negatives in a 26-point playoff win), the Big Reds never reached the 35-point margin that they needed to force a running clock on Marquette.

That fact, by itself, is certainly no big deal, but the reasons for it may offer some clues about possible concerns as Muskegon moves deeper into the state playoffs.

The Big Reds had turnover issues, throwing two interceptions and coughing up a fumble. They were also slowed by numerous penalties, including several at key moments when they were trying to complete scoring drives.

Myles Walton dances in the end zone for Muskegon after scoring a touchdown. Photo/Tim Reilly

Overall Muskegon was flagged for 11 penalties for 100 yards, compared to just five penalties for Marquette.

Fairfield wasn’t particularly concerned about the penalties after the game, noting that most of them were judgement calls by referees.

“I just don’t know what we’re supposed to do differently,” the coach said. “Last week we had two penalties and this week we had 11. We can’t worry about what they are calling or not calling, but it was just weird that in the first half we had one penalty and in the second half we had 10. It’s concerning, but I’m not sure where the concerns lie.”

Muskegon also showed future opponents that it can be vulnerable to big plays through the air. Marquette quarterback Austin Ridl completed three touchdown passes to receiver Kameron Karp – covering 77, 52 and 82 yards, respectively – accounting for all of the Redmen points.

Ridl completed 15 passes for 330 yards in the game. Karp, a great all-round offensive player, had 10 catches for 242 yards.

“We gave up 300 yards in passing,” Fairfield said. “Two of the touchdowns were blown coverages, and the other was a great play. Their number 23 (Karp) is a great player. But all of that is something we can correct.”

Muskegon scored the only touchdown of the first quarter when Oakes picked off a pass and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown, and Adrian Ramos’ PAT kick made the score 7-0.

The second quarter was much different, with a sudden explosion of offense and big plays.

Walton gave the Big Reds a 21-0 lead with a one-yard scoring burst and a 65-yard punt return touchdown. Marquette got on the board with 7:33 left in the half when Ridl connected with Karp on a 77-yard touchdown pass.

Myles Walton makes a tackle for Muskegon. Photo/Tim Reilly

The Big Reds extended their lead to 28-7 when Crowley threw a 24-yard TD pass to Oakes with four minutes remaining, then Ritl completed a 52-yard touchdown pass to Karp with 2:27 left before halftime, making the score 28-14.

Muskegon wrapped up the first-half scoring when Dault caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Crowley, then Crowley scored on an eight-yard run on the last play of the half.

The Big Reds led 41-14 at the break.

The second half was a lot more subdued. Walton scored on a six-yard run for Muskegon with 7:19 left in the third, then Ridl completed an 82-yard scoring pass to Karp with 1:37 left in the quarter.

There was no scoring in the fourth quarter.

The Big Reds outrushed Marquette 402-56 on the day and had a 31-13 edge in first downs.

Dominic Sugin led the stingy Muskegon defense with nine tackles, including one sack. Pierre Johnson added five tackles, while Oakes and Walton each had one interception.

After the game, Fairfield talked about what it means as a program to capture nine straight district championships. Lots of players have come and gone through the system over the years, but the Big Reds just keep winning.

“I like us to be in the conversation when people talk about elite programs,” the coach said. “We don’t want to be a this-year team or a next-year team – we want to be a contender for a championship every year.

“The kids have done a great job handling the expectations. This group has had a more difficult road because of the pandemic, so for them to still come through is great. I am very happy and pleased to win nine in a row.”