By Tom Kendra
The Mona Shores and Muskegon football programs might despise each other (OK, might has nothing to do with it, they do despise each other – this a REAL cross-town rivalry), but they really should be sending each other thank you notes.
Think about it.
When Matt Koziak took over the Mona Shores football program 11 years ago, he didn’t have to look far to find both the template for success and the carrot for his team to chase.
Meanwhile, how was Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield (now in his 12th year) supposed to push his teams to keep up with the Detroit-area powerhouses without a local rival to test them?
That constant, year-round battle to be the best in Muskegon County has produced two programs that are among the best in the state. Muskegon is on an incredible run of seven state championship games in the last nine years, including the 2017 Division 3 title. Shores has gone from rags to riches, making the state finals four times in the past seven years, including Division 2 titles the past two seasons.
The next installment in one of the state’s best new rivalries comes Friday night at Sailor Stadium, where Muskegon (5-1) and Mona Shores (5-1) both come in riding four-game winning streaks, with the victor in position to claim the OK Green Conference championship.
After last year’s game was limited to less than 300 fans due to Covid restrictions, a throng approaching 7,000 fans is expected for what appears to be a classic senior quarterback matchup of contrasting styles – Muskegon’s Myles Walton (the runner), one of the state’s most electrifying weapons in the open field vs. Mark Konecny (the passer), with a rocket arm to get the ball out to the edge and deep downfield.
Muskegon’s top weapons are behind Walton in the backfield and next to him in the slot, looking to find a small seam between the tackles and take it to the house. Sophomore Jakob Price has stepped up big, along with seniors Damari Foster and Ernest Young.
Shores’ dangerous home-run threats are on the edges, waiting to receive a Konecny fastball and then make people miss – namely seniors Demetri Roberson and Ryan McNiff and junior slots Jaylen Vinton and CJ Ivy.
Muskegon has won five of the last six in the series, but it doesn’t seem like it because it’s the Sailors that everyone was talking about as they hoisted the state championship trophy the past two years.
So, in spite of holding a 32-8 edge in the all-time series, Muskegon comes in with something of a chip on its shoulder.
Adding to the Big Reds’ motivation is the last time all of the area’s eyes were focused on them, they were run over at Hackley Stadium by a bigger and more experienced Detroit Cass Tech team, 49-14. But that was Week 2 and this is Week 7, and many of the kids on the youngest team Fairfield has ever coached at Muskegon have grown up – particularly on the offensive line in sophomores Miguel Botello and Karl Brooks and freshman Robert Mills.
Mona Shores counters with a team which has had some struggles of its own dealing with life in the post-Brady Rose era.
Rose almost single-handedly delivered the win last fall for Shores, which bolted to a 14-0 halftime lead, before Muskegon stormed back to tie it in the fourth quarter. Rose then scored the game-winning touchdown run and sealed it with a late interception.
One major concern for the Sailors is slow starts – they trailed Detroit King 34-13 at halftime, trailed Grand Rapids Union 26-14 late in the first half and trailed Zeeland East 16-14 late in the first half – something they can’t afford against the Big Reds.
How will it turn out?
When Muskegon has the ball, look for Fairfield to test the Sailors all along the line of scrimmage, probing for a weak spot to exploit, with Walton or Price looking to take it the distance without the pesky Rose swiping at their ankles.
When Shores has the ball, expect a steady diet of quick passes to the edge, before taking a series of deep shots behind the big arm of Konecny.
Weather could be a factor as well, with the threat of rain in the forecast, which would make things interesting in the final season of natural grass at Sailor Stadium.
One thing is for certain: the teams will go into the playoffs in a few weeks in different divisions – Shores in Division 2 and Muskegon in Division 3. And they will enter the postseason better teams because they were pushed to be great simply by trying to keep up with their rivals across town.
Even if they don’t want to admit it.
A RIVALRY IS BORN
Muskegon has dominated Mona Shores in football, with a 32-8 edge in the all-time series. Shores has been much more competitive in recent years, with the Big Reds holding a 7-3 lead in the past 10 games:
2020: Mona Shores, 21-14
2019: Muskegon, 53-0
2018: Muskegon, 55-35
2017: Muskegon, 35-24
2016: Muskegon, 36-15
2015: Muskegon, 21-10 (playoffs)
2015: Mona Shores, 21-18
2014: Mona Shores, 48-27
2013: Muskegon, 26-20
2012: Muskegon, 34-14