By Greg Gielczyk
MUSKEGON – Last week was the first step on what Muskegon Catholic Central’s football team hopes is the path to a 14th state championship in program history.
The next step comes Friday night when the Crusaders (10-1), who last won a district title 5 years ago, take on undefeated Lawton (11-0) in the Division 7 regional final.
The game has been moved to Hackley Stadium, the home of the Muskegon Big Reds.
“They (the Blue Devils) have scored a lot of points on offense (584) and haven’t been stopped very much,” Crusaders coach Steve Czerwon said. “They’re kind of a mixture. They run some more like a power ‘T’ type set and then they do some spread stuff.
“They have a real good running back and you’ve got to be conscious of where he’s at. They’re big, physical kids up front, so we’ve got to get people to the ball and we have to play with great effort.”
Muskegon Catholic last won a district in 2016 when they went 14-0 and won the Division 8 state championship with a 35-6 victory over Whiteford. They’ve won 13 state titles in in their storied history.
Lawton won the program’s first-ever district championship with last week’s convincing 35-6 victory over Union City and now hopes to make more history with its first regional title.
But getting past the Crusaders will be a tall order.
Muskegon Catholic is coming off a 50-14 lopsided victory over Ravenna in its district final, stretching its winning streak to nine in row. The Crusaders haven’t lost since suffering a 28-6 setback to the hands of Grand Rapids West Catholic in Week 2.
“Which team executes the best will probably have the best chance to win,” Czerwon said. “Minimizing your mistakes and being able to execute on both sides of the ball (will be the keys).”
Last week, Muskegon Catholic was powered by David Hill, who churned out 187 yards rushing and had two touchdowns on 18 carries. Nick Powell added 82 yards on eight tries at the line and Joe Waller ran for 76 on eight attempts.
Crusader quarterback Elliot Riegler completed 3-of-4 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown to receiver Chase Willer.
Lawton and MCC have met on the gridiron only once before in their history, when the Crusaders posted a 48-0 shutout of the Blue Devils in the first round of the playoffs back in 2006.
“Some of this stuff comes down to effort,” said Czerwon. “Each team executing what they’re attempting. We’ve got a focused group of kids. We have a senior-oriented team and I think the last half of the season, I think they’ve done a very good job of focusing, believing in themselves and playing with tremendous passion.”
All-state running back Jake Rueff leads the Blue Devils’ ground attack. He scored three touchdowns last week against Union City to push his season total to 45. He ran for a total of 115 yards in the district final, which pushed him above the 2,000-yard mark through 11 games.
Lawton’s biggest question marks coming into the season were on the defensive side of the ball, where the Blue Devils had graduated all-state defensive backs Connor DeVries and Jonathan Halloway, and Rueff was moved from cornerback to linebacker. It would appear those questions were answered as the Blue Devils have limited opponents to 8.5 points a game.
“They look to be pretty multiple in their defense, so it’s just a matter of getting into the flow of the game and figuring out a few things that work,” Czerwon said. “We mix it up (on offense). We’re pretty multiple. We run some out of the ‘T,’ we run some out of the spread. We can throw it when we need to, so we’re pretty versatile on offense. We’ve always prided ourselves on being able to do multiple things.
“Everybody is fortunate to be playing right now. Every team is different. You’ve got a new crop of kids. Just looking to take this group of kids as far as they earn to go.”