Last fall, the Muskegon Heights Tigers cancelled their season amidst the COVID pandemic. This year, Coach Van Parker’s bunch embarked on a storybook regular season, qualifying for the school’s first playoffs since 2010. It was also the first winning season for Muskegon Heights since 2010, as they posted a 5-4 record. “This season showed that we can do it. In the past, we were seen as losers. There were people out there that thought we couldn’t make this happen,” Parker shared. “Now we proved can. It’s a huge stepping stone to grow our program, and we are hoping it is a trampoline. Our kids now know that with hard work, anything is possible.”

Ja’Kari Edwards is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback for the Tigers. He has 17 total touchdowns, and can burn defenses in a multitude of ways. This offense also features Anthony Floyd, Ashton Smith and Damond Davis as integral weapons.

“Muskegon Heights is a well-coached team”, Holton Head Coach Alex Smith stated in an interview earlier this week. “He (Coach Parker) is doing an amazing job building this program. I am very impressed with their physicality and how they attack the football.”

Holton underwent their own changes this offseason, as they welcomed first-year Head Coach Alex Smith to the fold. The team has come together to put together a 5-4 regular season record, just the second winning regular season for the Red Devils since 2007. “This first year has been kind of like drinking through a fire hose,” Coach Smith explained. “I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve learned a lot. At the same time, I’ve been so blessed to have 11 seniors. It’s given me a core group of kids that trust each other and played so much football together.”

The Red Devils have their own threat at quarterback, with senior Austin Fowler leading the way. “Austin is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached,” Smith shared. “He is a coach out there on the field for us.”

Fowler has tossed the ball around with great efficiency, completing 65% of his passes. The Red Devils’ signal-caller has racked up 1,828 yards through the air, and an area-leading 28 passing touchdowns. In addition to his talent, he is the beneficiary of a great group of offensive weapons, such as Bret Hosmer, Kevin Erickson and Rice Robins. “We have some really solid athletes. With a small bunch up front, we found out we need to air it out and get in space,” Smith explained. “We are trying to play basketball on grass. Austin allows us to do just that.”

Defense is going to be the key on both sides in this game. Holton has given up 30.1 points per game, including 43 points in their Week 9 defeat against Newaygo. “We need to be accountable and committed to the football, playing with sound technique and fundamentals defensively,” Smith revealed. “At times, we have struggled with assignments and tackling in space, which has led to some big plays for our opponents. We have yet to play a complete game defensively, and in this matchup we need everyone to do their one-eleventh defensively.”

On the contrary, Muskegon Heights also yielded 30.1 points per contest. Three times their opponents have scored at least 40, including a 52-point output by Muskegon Catholic Central. Coach Parker iterated his team’s emphasis on stepping up to the challenge on Saturday. “We need to control the line of scrimmage. If we can do that, we can win. They have an explosive offensive attack that can take the top off. Their quarterback can really throw the deep ball, so we need to stay in front of their receivers and avoid getting beat deep.”

This is the first meeting between these schools since 2004, a regular season game Holton won 38-32. Regardless of the outcome in Saturday’s showdown at Phillips Field, it’s reasonable to expect that the offenses surpass the 2004 total. The fireworks will be exploding from both sides in this ballgame, but the defensive units will ultimately determine which school will move on.