By Tom Kendra

MUSKEGON–Muskegon was never able to completely stop Zeeland West on Friday night.

The Big Reds made some key defensive adjustments and forced the visitors to work hard for everything in the second half – including a game-saving, 4th-and-9 conversion in the final minutes – but Skylar Geurink’s 26-yard scoring run with 49 seconds remaining made the Dux offense a perfect 6-for-6 in a dramatic, 38-36 victory at Hackley Stadium.

It’s a shame that we had to lose like this, but it was probably necessary,” said Muskegon junior running back Jakob Price, who had to stay on the field afterwards as part of the Homecoming court.

We have to start games more focused and ready to go. We’ll be back stronger on Monday.”

Price’s strong words were in reference to Friday’s nightmare start, which saw the Big Reds spot the visitors a 20-0 lead after the first quarter.

Muskegon (3-2, 2-1) got its offense on track and thrilled the huge home crowd after that point, as Price and junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran wild, eventually taking their first lead of the game, 36-32, on a 12-yard run by Price with 2:37 remaining.

That score capped a 36-12 scoring surge by the Big Reds – but it left too much time for the Dux to strike back.

Muskegon’s defense looked like it was going to make its first big stop of the night on the ensuing possession, stuffing two straight running plays and then perfectly defending a flea-flicker pass by Geurink on third down, setting up what could have been the final play for the Dux – a 4th-and-9 from their own 36-yard line with 1:17 remaining.

With the Muskegon fans and sideline on their feet and screaming, the Dux did something they rarely do:

Pass the ball.

Senior quarterback Trevor Wallar rolled right and actually had two receivers open in the flat. He chose the longer pass, to junior tight end Orion Want, who made the catch and took it down to the Muskegon 42-yard line.

Just a few plays later, Geurink found a seam off left tackle, slipped a couple of tackles, and    raced 26 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Zeeland West (5-0, 3-0) did have one offensive problem on Friday: 2-point conversions.

The Dux, who never kick extra points, added the 2-point conversion after their first touchdown, but then failed to get the extra points on their final five touchdowns.

That shortcoming gave the Big Reds one final chance with the strong leg of junior kicker Adrian Ramos Velazquez, trailing by 2 points with 49 seconds remaining.

However, Muskegon’s struggles passing the ball doomed them on that final possession as they failed to pick up a first down. When Guy’s final pass to Price in the middle of the field on fourth down fell incomplete, the ZW sideline went crazy.

 “On defense, we hit them hard, especially in the second half, but we didn’t wrap them up enough and that cost us the game,” explained Price.

Guy showed great leadership bringing his team back, finishing with 19 carries for 206 yards and a touchdown. He completed 5-of-14 passes for 51 yards.

Price, who missed the first two games of the season with a high ankle sprain, showed his familiar burst of speed on three touchdown runs (2 yards, 22 yards and 12 yards) and ended with 16 carries for 84 yards. Destin Piggee also got involved, rushing four times for 25 yards and catching three passes for another 21 yards.

Zeeland West, which is ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 3, stunned the hosts with two long TD runs in the first quarter, a 53-yarder by Rolando Robelin and a 52-yarder by Parker Holman.

Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, in his 13th year, made some adjustments after that, bringing more beef onto the defensive front in the form of sophomore Robert Mills and juniors Isaiah Williams and Karl Brooks (among others), and shut down West’s trademark trap runs.

ZW coach John Shillito, in his 18th year and the only coach the Dux have ever had, then started to call more plays around the edges – and the chess game was on.

Geurink ended up being the star of the night, scoring all of Zeeland’s points in the second half on a 4-yard run and then the game-winning 26-yarder in the final minute.

Adrian Rankin led Muskegon’s defense with 10 tackles, while Mason Hunter, Julian Neely and CJ Ivy each made eight tackles.

Zeeland West, which beat the Big Reds for the first time since 2005 to improve to 2-5 all-time against them, host Mona Shores next Friday in a battle of the two remaining unbeaten teams in OK Green Conference play.

Muskegon, which is ranked No. 7 in Division 3 and could very well get a rematch against the Dux in the playoffs, will look to bounce back next week at Grand Rapids Union.