By Greg Gielczyk

North Muskegon was playing with its second string quarterback, Denny Belmonte, to start the game, and its head coach, Larry Whitham, was in the hospital because of a health issue.

As if that wasn’t enough adversity for the Norsemen, Belmonte left the game in the first half after sustaining an injury, which forced third-string signal caller, sophomore Ben Meyers, into service.

The Norsemen overcame it all, completing a 35-0 shutout of the Mason County Central Spartans in Scottville Friday night.

“A lot of guys stepped up,” said Bryan Rypstra, who found out Thursday he was going to have to step in for Whitham and run the show.

“Our starting quarterback (James Young) went out last week with a broken collarbone, our second string quarterback got hurt and went to the hospital.

“… (Meyers) played quarterback on (junior varsity) a year ago as a freshman. This year, we brought him up. He’s one of our outstanding defensive backs, one of our better players all around. He just stepped in there and didn’t miss a beat.”

Mason County Central, playing for only the third time this season, threatened early when the Spartans drove down to the Norsemen 25-yard line after receiving the opening kickoff. But Meyers intercepted a pass to bring it to an end.

A few plays later, Meyers would carry the ball himself on a 5-yard burst up the middle and the Norsemen took a 6-0 lead with 3:11 left in the first quarter.

The Norsemen’s lead grew to 14-0 with 9:17 left in the second quarter when Meyers found Kyle Huff open for a 22-yard touchdown strike and Meyers ran in the two-point conversion.

North Muskegon again struck through the air for the next score, as Matt Colbert had a 15-yard reception and he added the two-point conversion for the 22-0 halftime score.,

Meyers threw his third touchdown pass of the game with 12:00 left in the third period, this one a 50-yarder that Colbert caught and then streaked past the Spartan defenders for the score. Noah Bamberg added the point after kick to make it 29-0.

Colbert returned an interception for a touchdown, Baumberg again kicking for the extra point with 4:01 remaining in the third, and starting a running clock.

“It’s big for us,” Rypstra said. “We’ve kind of suffered a little bit from our schedule being so tough. We came in here at 2-5, and we walk out of here 3-5.

“We’re still hopeful we can get to 4-5 next week, and let the cards fall where they may. If that’s enough to get us in (the playoffs), then that’s enough to get us in. We’re just trying to take it one win at a time. Coaching staff did a great job getting these kids ready all week.”

Meyers finished 7-of-11 passing for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Belmonte was 2-of-2 for 43 yards before being injured. Colbert had six receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Dana led the Norsemen with 54 yards on 10 attempts rushing the ball. Meyers had four attempts for 36 yards, and Belmonte had 18 yards on two tries.

Drew Bartos led the defense for North Muskegon with six tackles and three for loss, Kyle Huff was in on five tackles and had one for loss, and Jacari Edwards was in on four stops.

“We had some breakdowns on defense, but it wasn’t because our kids weren’t trying hard,” Spartans head coach Scott Briggs said. “It was just that they were trying to do some things that we haven’t asked them to do in the past.

“But, we had to have them do it tonight because of the injuries and what not. They did the best they could, and I thought that they really put forth a good effort. We came out on the bottom of it.”

Ethan Wood was 4-of-10 passing for 22 yards for the Spartans.

Xander Gajeski rushed for a team-leading 46 yards on 10 carries, while Peyton Merz picked up 35 yards on two attempts, and caught two passes for 13 yards. Gage Ruiz had two receptions for nine yards.

Defensive leaders for the Spartans included Kolden Myer with five tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception, Merz was in on four stops and Ethan Domin had a tackle for loss.