By Melvin Lane
MUSKEGON — It was defense that kept Muskegon in the game in its opener against East Kentwood. That defense ultimately won it as well in a 20-14 Big Reds victory in the Hackley Stadium Showcase on Friday evening.
After it took the lead on a 20-yard quarterback keeper from M’Khi Guy, it was senior Julian Neely who came up big, intercepting passes on back-to-back possessions.
East Kentwood then had one final chance in the waning seconds, but a throw and lateral play eventually ended up in the hands of Muskegon’s Da’Rekeo Speech to secure a Big Reds victory.
“When you go to the state finals, you don’t have any time to warm up,” Big Red coach Shane Fairfield said. “So for us the game got pushed back 30 minutes, we’re back out of our routine.
“We didn’t get a chance to do any running around and I kind of thought of that (Hackley Stadium Showcase) as being something that could help us get use to the routine of getting back to Ford Field,” Fairfield said. “The kids really handled the heat, a late start and a lot of people here.”
A Destin Piggee 6-yard touchdown run opened the scoring for Muskegon.
Then East Kentwood put together both of its scoring drives, the first finishing with a 4-yard touchdown run by senior Jaiden Woodson and the second coming on a 32-yard touchdown reception by senior Nathaniel Cobbs from junior Casey Joppie following a Big Reds fumble.
The East Kentwood lead held until the fourth quarter, when the Big Reds mounted a 16-play, 99-yard drive, capped off by sophomore Adrian Rankin’s 2-yard touchdown run to bring the game within two. That was followed by Guy’s game-winning score after Speech’s first fumble recovery.
“We got a lot of young guys still on this this team,” Fairfield said.
Muskegon finished the game with 243 yards of total offense, all on the ground.
Guy rushed for 91 yards and Rankin gained 61 yards for the Big Reds.
East Kentwood finished the game with 234 yards rushing and Joppie threw for 160 yards and a score.
On defense, the Big Reds were led by Neely’s two interceptions and Speech’s two fumble recoveries. Senior CJ Ivy added an interception.
Muskegon will travel to face Warren De La Salle on Friday.