East QB Jalen Broussard (1) gets a key block from Griffen Caul (4) clearing the way for a 55yd TD. Photo courtsey of Mike Steers photography.
Week one of the Division 3 playoffs had several incredible matchups. None more anticipated than the rematch of week 3 from the regular season. That matchup was between the OK Black champion Muskegon Big Reds and the OK Gold co-champion East Grand Rapids Pioneers. That game featured the stingey defense of East taking a lead into the locker room at the half, only to see it disinegrate quickly in the remaining two quarters. The final score would eventually show the visitor Muskegon 49-21 winners.
Tonight, the Big Reds would host the first round playoff game. The 23 game winning streak and a chance to return to Ford Field to defend their 2017 title would be on the line. The Muskegon squad had home field advantage as well as a little something extra planned for the visiting Pioneers. East won the coin flip and chose to defer putting the Muskegon Offense on the field to start the game. Or so we thought, Sr. Demario Robinson would return the opening kick off 86 yards for the games first score. Muskegon Sr QB Cameron Martinez (3 time Core Power Performance Player of the Week) had not yet stepped on the field and already his team had the lead. That lead would stay with the Big Reds although East would get within a touchdown three times throughout the night.
Muskegon would extend the lead to 14-0 midway through the opening frame on a 7yd TD run by Sr Jerimiah Lockhart. That deficit would remain until the Pioneers got on the board shortly after the teams traded sides. Just 2 minutes had gone by in the second quarter when East Jr RB John Shelton punched it in on the ground from 30yds out. The score would remain 14-7 until the 3 minute mark when Lockhart would again find the endzone. His team re-established the 14 point lead, but the margin would again be cut to 7 when the Pioneers Sr QB Jalen Broussard broke free on a 55yd TD run just 30 seconds later. The Big Reds were not done scoring, they would add 7 to their talley when Martinez connected with Robinson for a 34yd score with just 00:07 left on the clock. That lead would stand and the home team would take a 14 point lead into the intermission 28-14.
The third quarter would see both teams make defensive adjustments effectively limiting the opposing offenses to just one score each. Muskegon scored on a Martinez 7yd run while East would see Broussard connect with Jr WR Josh Weiss for a 32yd score. The extra point would be wide left by Jr K Henry Wassink and the Pioneers would now trail 35-20 headed into the final 12 minutes of one of these storied teams season.
Just over 80 seconds into the 4th the home crowd would begin to smell a win as Robinson again would cross the goal line. This time for a 21yd score, Sr. K Carlos Hernandez-Sias would make his 6th extra point of the night giving his teammates and fans the largest lead of the contest (42-20). The tide, emotion, and momentum seemed to be on the Big Reds side. The trouble is, no one on the far side of the field felt the same way. East would have an answer just under a minute later with a Broussard 76yd run that only stopped because the field isn’t longer. To offset the missed extra point from earlier coach Casey Longo would have the offense go for 2. Broussard used his arm to find classmate Sr FB Griffen Caul as he leaked out of the backfield uncovered, caught the pass, and crossed the goal line. (42-28)
The Pioneers would attempt an onside kick and Soph Nate Milanowski tipped it to himself and recovered the loose ball giving the East Offense a very short field. Just 81 seconds after the big run by Broussard, he would score again. This time from 14yds and now the Pioneers were back to within one score with 8:25 to go (42-35). The East defense would bend but not break forcing the home team to give the ball back for a potential game tying drive. East would then work the ball down to the Muskegon 20yd line, but a great strip tackle by Muskegon Sr LB Jakobie Harris would put the ball on the turf and the Big Reds would recover it. Coach Shane Fairfield would need a couple of 1st downs to seal the game. The combination of Robinson and Martinez would be up to the task and the clock would run out on the Pioneers season. The final score would read Muskegon 42 East Grand Rapids 35.
The Pioneers finish the season 6-4 and OK Gold Co-Champs. The 4 losses were at the hands of playoff teams, Zeeland East, GR Christian, and Muskegon x2.
The Big Reds will move host the District 2 Finals next week agianst OK Gold Co-Champs GR Christian. Their record now moves to 10-0 and the win streak is now 24 games.
Demario Robinson the Muskegon Sr RB/LB/K return/P ruturn was the Core Power Performance Player of the Game
Congratulations to both squads, and speaking for nearly everyone in attendance, the game was well worth the price of admission. Playoff football is fantastic !!