Muskegon’s defense rises up once again
Greenville – It was expected to be a high-scoring shootout between defending state champion Zeeland West and Muskegon in the Division 3 state semifinal matchup Saturday afternoon at Greenville High School.
Instead, the Big Reds posted a double-digit shutout.
Muskegon (12-1) clinched its third consecutive trip to Ford Field with a 20-0 rout of Zeeland West (12-1), stopping the Dux’s 24-game winning streak and handing the program its first shutout defeat in school history.
Muskegon will face Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (11-2) in the title game next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“Everything worked out for us this year,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “It’s just a tribute to our kids for the butt-chewings and the time we worked … going up to Grand Haven and doing our two-point conversion and short-yardage drills on the snowy, icy field. We were up there for 2½ hours on Thursday’s practice.
“We told them it would be a fistfight, and they were going to challenge them,” he said of squaring off against the Dux. “It’s nothing I did. Any coach could’ve put them in that position, because they played their butts off.”
The Big Reds withstood a potential scoring threat on the opening series.
Fairfield, who admitted he was tempted to accept the kickoff after winning the coin toss, listened to his coaching staff and let the Dux go on offense to begin the contest. Zeeland West got a 12-yard play on fourth-and-five and possessed the ball for more than six minutes, but the drive failed to produce points.
“The funny thing is, I’ve watched them all year on film,” Fiarfield sad. “I said, ‘If we win the toss, we need to get the ball first. We gotta score first.’ Every team they’ve played, they’ve scored first, and if they get that two-point conversion, it’s a chase game.
“The coaches talked me out of it. That’s why I’ve got such a great staff. My coaches said, ‘Do what we do.’ So, we did what we do,” he added. “I give them the credit for that.”
In its second offensive series, the Big Reds broke two big runs to set up their first touchdown.
Senior running back Caleb Washington had bursts of 46 and 36 yards, leading to senior quarterback Shawn Pfenning’s 7-yard touchdown run.
Washington got a big push up front from his linemen for a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
For both, it marked their 15th rushing touchdowns of the season.
The Dux entered the semifinal matchup averaging more than 50 points per game. West threatened to score midway through the second quarter when junior quarterback Casey Brinks threw late to the right flat. Senior cornerback Alezay Coleman made a sensational, one-handed catch for the interceptions and returned it 57 yards to set up the second score.
“It all comes down to seniors making plays when they need to,” Fairfield said. “For Alezay to put his left paw out as they were preparing to score, that was huge for us. Those are the breaks that you need in games like this.”
Brinks departed the scene during the next offensive series for the Dux.
He escaped three Muskegon tacklers to gain seven yards on third and 9, but he suffered an apparent concussion at the end of the play. He left the field on his own, but did not play the rest of the game.
“I just tried to get a couple extra yards. I thought I was fine, but the trainer didn’t think so,” Brinks said. “I guess that’s what happens. It’s still a win for us even though we lost, because we had a great season.
“I just feel bad for our seniors, but we’ll be back next year.”
The Big Reds also suffered the loss of one of their top players.
Taran Smith, a senior leader on defense, was helped off the field with a right leg injury in the third quarter. He entered the matchup with a team-leading 112 tackles, including 26 for loss.
“It’s an ankle right now. They say it’s not loose and it didn’t dislocate,” Fairfield said. “So, hopefully, it’s just a high thing or a low thing, and then we’ll get him rehabbed.
“The good thing is we’ll play on Saturday (night), so that gives us some time to get him rehabbed up. His pain level was a three out of five. He’s panicking, thinking the worst, but we’re gonna think the best until we hear otherwise.”
Big Reds senior placekicker Miquel Flores accounted for all of the second-half scoring.
He booted a 42-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter, putting his team ahead 17-0. He made a school-record 53 yarder on the last play of the game.
“If it had been one second or two seconds, we would’ve taken the knee,” Fairfield explained. “With eight seconds left, we just thought we’d give him a chance. He broke the school record earlier (in the playoffs) with a 48-yard (field goal).
“We’re excited for him.”
West couldn’t sustain offensive momentum minus Brinks.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Dux coach John Shillito said. “These kids don’t owe anything to anybody. They’ll get over it, because they’re kids, and they’ll be proud of what they’ve done.”