By Ron Rop
The Sailors bolted out to a 42-0 lead at the half and cruised to a 48-20 victory over Traverse City Central in a game played at Sailors Stadium.
The defense was air-tight and the offense was explosive in the first 24 minutes.
Mona Shores moves on to face Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, which defeated Reeths-Puffer, 32-6, in the other district game on Friday night.
“It felt great,” Shores coach Matt Koziak said of his team’s first-half performance. “We don’t like to talk about it, but we lost a big one last week (to Muskegon) and so we talk about a new chapter. Everyone is 0-0 and the seven wins we had in the season are irrelevant right now and our two losses are irrelevant. It’s about how we play now and I thought our kids showed a lot of growth. I loved how we came out. That is a great program (Traverse City).”
Defense set the tone right off the bat for the Sailors. On the Trojans’ opening drive, Brandon Bankard stepped in front of a pass and the Sailors took over on the Traverse City 48.
“Our defense has been lights out all year,” Koziak said.
On the first play from scrimmage, Shores quarterback Jonathan Pittman dropped back and launched a pass that caught Jaylen Vinton in stride in the end zone. That score came after just 1:47 had expired off the first-quarter clock.
“It felt great because we came in and I was a little nervous with the first playoff game,” Pittman said. “But it felt to get those nerves out and just to go out and play. We came out with the mentality that we wanted to dominate in the playoffs.”
Before the opening quarter expired, Mona Shores scored two more touchdowns. The first came on a Keywan Farnum 11-yard run and a 2-yard run by Dahmir Farnum. Shores led 21-0 after 12 minutes.
The onslaught continued in the second quarter when Eric Cotner caught the first of his two touchdowns from Pittman. The first came from 21 yards out and the second was a 33 yarder that completed the first-half scoring.
Bankard also scored in the second quarter on a 64-yard run. Bankard used some nifty moves to navigate through the Trojan defense and into the end zone.
Shores led 42-0 at the half.
Koziak went to his bench early and often in the second half. That included seldom-used players along with some sophomores and freshmen.
“We got to play some young guys, and more importantly, rest some guys, but I’m glad our defense was back to the defense that we know,” Koziak said.
Sophomore quarterback James Starr and freshman signal caller Peyton Babbitt both saw extensive action in the second half. One highlight for Shores was an electrifying 66-yard touchdown run by Dominic Piggee to account for the Sailors’ final score.
The second half is also when Traverse City got on the board. Reed Seabase scored from 13 yards out in the third quarter while Mack Shane caught 26-yard pass from Brayden Holliday and Seabase scored on a 17-yard run in the final quarter.
Pittman completed 7-of-8 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in one half of work. Bankhard rushed twice for 93 yards and Dahmir Farnum ran four times for 52 yards. Cotner caught three passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
Besides Bankard, Vinton also had an interception on defense.
“Our kids have been great with wins and losses,” Koziak said. “It’s always nice after a loss because this isn’t like basketball where you have a game in two days or a doubleheader in baseball … you have to wait a whole week to get that taste out of your mouth.”