By Tom Kendra

MUSKEGON–The last nine times Muskegon and Reeths-Puffer met on the football field, the Big Reds won by an average of 44 points.

Suffice to say that Friday’s latest installment – the first in the Cody Kater era as head coach of the Rockets – was a whole different ballgame.

Muskegon (2-1) wore down the visitors in the second half, using power blocking from its offensive line and the dynamic running of junior quarterback M’Khi Guy to pull out a thrilling 28-20 victory over the upset-minded Rockets in front of 6,000 fans at historic Hackley Stadium.

Puffer limited the explosive 1-2 junior punch of running back Jakob Price (56 yards) and slotback Destin Piggee (12 yards) to just 68 total yards on 19 carries, but there was just one problem:

They forgot about Guy.

Guy repeatedly kept the ball on keeper runs, finishing with 24 carries for 203 yards and two touchdowns. His longest run from scrimmage was 30 yards, with plenty of tough 6- and 7-yard lugs.

“They were going after Destin every time he came in motion and crashing on Jakob inside, and I don’t blame them,” said Guy, a junior who has hung around the Muskegon football program since elementary school. “I would do the same thing, because they are both all-state runners, but that opened things up for me.”

Guy opened the scoring midway through the first quarter, plunging in from 2 yards out to cap an impressive opening drive.

Puffer (2-1) answered right back. Junior Bryce Ross returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back by an illegal block. On the very next play, junior Brody Johnson broke through the defensive line on a straight fullback dive and sprinted 47 yards to tie the score.

After an interception by linebacker Caiden Bolduc (another standout in R-P’s outstanding junior class), the Rockets put together another impressive drive, with Johnson taking it the final 30 yards to give R-P a 14-7 lead and stun and silence the huge throng of fans.

“We had to settle in,” explained Guy, who also completed 8-of-11 passes for 56 yards. “We had the right alignment and we knew our assignments, but we just weren’t executing. In the second half, we started executing.”

The Big Reds’ big offensive line actually started to take control late in the first half. On a day when temperatures on the field hung around 80 degrees at kickoff in the blazing sun, Muskegon benefitted from having zero two-way players, while Puffer had five.

Muskegon’s offensive line of senior center Nickarri Lane, junior guards Miguel Botello and Karl Brooks, senior tackle D’Andre Hudgins and sophomore tackle N-Kye Winn dominated on a drive late in the second quarter, with Guy sprinting in from 8 yards out to tie the game, 14-14, at halftime.

The Big Reds again drove the ball impressively on their first possession of the second half, with Price bulling in from 2 yards out for the only score of the third quarter, giving the hosts a 21-14 lead.

The other big change in the second half was that Muskegon’s defensive front found a way to put serious pressure on Puffer senior quarterback Brady Ross – specifically senior defensive end Nyzirre Wynn (seven tackles) and sophomore linebacker Darekeo Speech (six tackles).

The old Rockets might have fallen apart at that point, but this team showed some serious grit.

Ross used a combination of short passes and scramble runs to lead the visitors on a drive early in the fourth quarter, culminating with a 4-yard scoring pass to Brody Johnson. The extra-point kick was no good, however, leaving the score 21-20 in favor of Muskegon.

The Big Reds were able to get the pull away touchdown on the ensuing possession, with Wanyai Johnson outracing the Rockets around right end on a 13-yard scoring run.

“We had to fight the entire game to get this win,” said Guy, who is first cousins with Cameron Martinez, the former star Muskegon quarterback who now plays at Ohio State.

Johnson carried 12 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns for Puffer, averaging 9.7 yards per carry.

Ross completed 12-of-17 passes for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His younger brother, junior Bryce Ross, caught five passes for 44 yards, while senior Tayte VanderLeest had two catches for 58 yards.

VanderLeest was the game’s best defensive player, flying in repeatedly from his strong safety position to make a game-high 10 tackles, including seven solos. Inside linebackers Bolduc and Tyviea Williams each made nine tackles and Sage Stiller-Secrest added six stops.

Muskegon improved its record to 23-1-1 all-time against Reeths-Puffer. The victory was the 20th in a row for the Big Reds in the series, who last lost to R-P in 1999.

Muskegon plays at Zeeland East next week, while Puffer hosts Grand Rapids Union.

Check out photos from the night shot by Joe Lane.