By Ron Rop
It’s because of the challenges, and losses, in the first two weeks of the season that have propelled his team to three straight victories, including a 28-13 conquest of host Reeths-Puffer on Friday night.
Muskegon dropped tough decisions to Rockford and Warren DeLaSalle before getting on track with victories over Holland, rival Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer.
“I think that’s why we are a 3-0 run,” said Fairfield, sweat pouring down his face. “We’ve played two good football teams back to back, but I like who we are, I like our growth so Games 1 and 2 definitely prepared us for a game like tonight.”
Friday night’s victory was highlighted by the Big Reds’ rushing attack, which generated 350 yards on 50 carries. Senior quarterback M’Khi Guy led the way with 156 yards rushing. Not far behind was Jakob Price, who rushed for 136 yards on 15 carries and scored three touchdowns.
“Those guys are incredible and we did it tonight without one of our starting guards,” said Fairfield, referring to the absence of Karl Brooks. “He could have played tonight, but I thought it would be better to save him for the end of the run.
“Those guys are so fun to watch,” Fairfield said of his explosiveness in the backfield that includes Guy, Price and fellow senior Destin Piggee. “They must put so much stress on a defense. I’d hate to defend them.”
From the Rockets’ point of view, there were mistakes made, but Rocket coach Cody Kater is convinced his team is on the cusp of putting it all together.
“I really do think if we follow the script here and the boys take the next step, we could be a pretty tough out as the season goes on,” Kater said.
Price opened the scoring near the midpoint of the opening quarter on a 1-yard run into the end zone. That scoring drive, which started with an interception by Keon Drummer on the Rockets’ first drive, took 10 plays and covered 67 yards. The biggest play was a 31-yard scamper by Guy that pushed the Big Reds into the red zone for the first time in the game.
Muskegon grabbed a 14-0 lead on a drive that began in the first quarter and culminated on the first play of the second quarter. Piggee took a pitch and darted 41 yards into the end zone and it sure looked like the Big Reds were well on their way against their rivals.
But that was certainly not the case.
In the second quarter, Rocket senior defensive back Ethan Winters stepped in front of a Guy pass near midfield and took that interception down to the 1-yard line. Three plays later, Brody Johnson pushed his way into the end zone from a yard out and it was 14-6.
Later in the quarter, Reeths-Puffer was on the move again and reached the Muskegon 7. But, disaster struck when Johnson was running toward the goal line, fumbled and the Big Reds recovered in the end zone for a touchback. That momentum swing helped the Big Reds drive 80 yards in nine plays and ended when Price scored from 10 yards out with just 21 seconds remaining until halftime.
Muskegon took that 21-6 lead into the half.The Big Reds’ first opportunity to score ended when the Rockets blocked a field goal attempt by Muskegon.
And on ensuing possession, Rocket quarterback Antrel Jones lofted a pass for 6-8 Travis Ambrose, who hauled it in rambled 68 yards to the Big Reds’ 27. Three plays later, Johnson darted into the end zone, and with 3:35 left in the third quarter, the Rockets were within one possession at 21-13.
Early in the fourth quarter, still armed with the eight-point lead, Muskegon went on a time-consuming, 13-play drive that was highlighted by a 36-yard pass play from Guy to Da’Carion Taylor on a third and 19 play. A 23-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right and the Rockets were still in business.
Three incomplete passes and a fumble gave the Big Reds the ball back with 2:17 remaining. Price capped the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds remaining.
Johnson led the Rockets with 15 rushes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had 152 yards passing and Ambrose had 80 yards in receptions.
“We just didn’t get the breaks at the right time,” Kater said. “I think they just broke the seal. We haven’t played well all season and kind of putting pieces together and never really got into a rhythm. I’m really, really, I guess just convicted and passionate that what we did out there is not a surprise.”
Muskegon hosts Zeeland East next week at Hackley Stadium.
Reeths-Puffer travels to Grand Rapids Union.
Photos courtesy of Craig Smith and video shot by Kam Willer.