By Tom Kendra

RAVENNA – A little over 1 minute into the game on Friday, Ravenna’s Thomas McCullough ran 48 yards for a touchdown and Hunter Hogan kicked the extra point.

That turned out to be all the scoring Ravenna would need, but not before sweating out a furious rally from a never-say-die North Muskegon team in a 7-6 Division 7 predistrict win at Citizen’s Field.

North Muskegon sophomore quarterback Ben Meyers led his team on its only significant drive of the entire game midway through the fourth quarter, capping it with a perfect 6-yard TD slant pass to fellow sophomore Landon Christensen with 1:04 remaining.

Then it was decision time for North Muskegon coach Larry Witham, who was coaching from the press box for the second-straight week after undergoing heart surgery on Oct. 15.

Should he send out the kicking unit, which has been shaky this year, and try to tie it and go into overtime?

Or should he roll the dice with his young team, which won its final two regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs at 4-5, and go for the win on the road?

After a timeout and a team huddle, the Norse offensive unit came out as fans from both teams rose to their feet.

Meyers took the snap under center and rolled right. He considered a throw into the corner of the end zone, but tucked it and kept running. When the pressure closed in he tried to dump it short to freshman Drew Bartos, but the pass was off the mark and the Bulldogs survived.

But it still wasn’t over.

The Norse executed a perfect onside kick, which Matt Colbert grabbed on the fly to give his team another chance in the final minute.

Meyers completed passes to Nick Dana and Colbert and drove his team down to Ravenna’s 35-yard line, but his pass into the end zone on 4th-and-13 fell incomplete, finally giving the Bulldogs the dramatic victory.

Ravenna (7-3), advances to play at old rival Muskegon Catholic Central (9-1), which dismantled Delton-Kellogg, 54-6, for the Division 7 district championship.

North Muskegon (4-6) returns a slew of players next year and will likely be the favorites in the small school division of the new, tiered West Michigan Conference. Other teams in that division will be Ravenna, Shelby, Hart, Mason County Central, Holton and Hesperia.

The Bulldogs made a lot of noise this fall offensively, with quarterback Kyle Beebe and playmakers McCullough and Hunter Hogan lighting up the scoreboard on a regular basis.

But in the playoff opener, it was the defense which made one early touchdown stand up for the win.

Ravenna held NM to 136 total yards – 107 on the ground and 29 through the air.

Safety Grant Becklin keyed the Bulldogs’ defense with seven tackles, while linebackers Zeke Thompson had six tackles and sophomore Drew Mabrito made five stops.

North Muskegon was led defensively by Alec Newville with six tackles and an interception. Quinn Kersman made five tackles and Matt Colbert, Kelty Blastic and Bo Nedeau made four tackles each. Nedeau also had an interception.

MCC leads the all-time series against Ravenna, 10-4, but the two teams locked horns in three epic playoff matchups in 1990, 1994 and 1995 (led by Muskegon Hall of Fame coaches Mike Holmes of MCC and Dusty Fairfield of Ravenna) – with the winner in each of those games going on to win the state championship.

MCC won in 1990 and 1995, but Ravenna prevailed in 1994, when the top offensive weapon for the Crusaders was Justin Ego – now the head coach at Ravenna.

Check out photos from the action shot by Jake Szetela.