MUSKEGON – Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy already had plenty of motivation to play the way he did on Saturday.

He grew up around the Muskegon football program and watched great quarterbacks like Kalil Pimpleton and La’Darius Jefferson guide the Big Reds to the state finals.

He got to know those former QBs over the years and dreamed of the day when he could take the Big Reds just as far.

Guy also wanted to disprove the widespread theory that this year’s Muskegon squad, after a 3-2 start to the season, didn’t have the talent or drive to make a long run in the playoffs.

On top of all that, Guy and the Big Reds were getting the chance to win a regional championship while playing Zeeland West, the team that beat them by two points in Week 5 and gave Muskegon’s critics plenty to gossip about.

Big Reds coach Shane Fairfield, left, accepts the regional championship trophy from Muskegon athletic director Keith Guy. Photo/Jeremy Clark

They took full advantage of the opportunity.

Guy had three long touchdown runs, including the game-winner, and the Big Red defense stepped up with huge plays throughout the contest, allowing Muskegon to claim a thrilling 27-20 victory at Hackley Stadium and a Division 4 regional championship.

“We took this game very personal,” said Guy, who rushed 14 times for 139 yards. “We were not happy with the outcome the first time we played them, especially losing at Hackley Stadium. Playing them again and getting revenge is great, and it’s even better because we won the regional trophy.”

Muskegon now moves on to play DeWitt next weekend in the semifinals, with the winner gaining a berth in the Division 3 state championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field.

The Big Reds will be looking for more revenge against a DeWitt team that beat them 14-0 in the semifinals in 2020. They will also be trying to qualify for the state finals for the first time since 2019.

Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy breaks loose for one of his long runs on Saturday. Photo/Jeremy Clark

While the Big Reds will quickly turn their focus to DeWitt, they took a moment after Saturday’s game to look back at the regular season and make a point.

Muskegon tied Mona Shores and Zeeland West for the O-K Green conference championship, but now has beaten both of those teams. The Big Reds feel like they are the top team in the conference, even if the record says three teams shared the title.

“We beat them both,” said Big Reds head coach Shane Fairfield, whose team has now won seven straight games and has a 9-2 record. “Today I believe strongly that we are the O-K Green champs.”

The Big Reds’ story this season has been all about growth.

After the loss to Zeeland West earlier in the season, they probably weren’t a good enough team to reach the state semifinals.

But they never stopped working, improving or believing in themselves, and it showed on the field on Saturday.

Price runs up the sideline while teammate Alyjuuan Paris (17) makes a block in front of him. Photo/Jeremy Clark

That’s particularly true for the Big Red defense – which has seven underclassmen in the starting lineup and struggled at times during the regular season – but answered the bell against Zeeland West.

The defense stuffed the Dux on fourth down on the visitors’ first possession of the game.  The D stopped the Dux again on their first possession of the second half when Robert Mills hauled down a tipped pass for an interception.

Muskegon stopped Zeeland West again on fourth down late in the third quarter, setting up a touchdown on the very next play. Then the defense ended the game by stopping the Dux on fourth down with less than a minute on the clock.

Adrian Rankin led the defense with 12 tackles, Derekeo Speech added 11 and Kingston Blackmon and Mason Hunter each had 10.

“To hold a team like Zeeland West to eight points through three quarters, holy cow,” Fairfield said about his defense. “They’ve been growing up, and the scary thing is that they still have a lot of room to improve.”

The Big Reds looked like they might win in a rout in the early part of the game.

Muskegon’s Jakob Price (20) reaches out to get the ball over the goal line. Photo/Jeremy Clark

They took the opening kickoff and marched 67 yards on 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the contest.

Jakob Price helped spark the drive with runs of 13 and 10 yards, Guy added a 15-yard burst, then the QB finished it off with a 14-yard touchdown run with 8:19 left in the first quarter.

The Muskegon defense followed with its first big stop of the day, forcing the Dux to turn the ball over on downs near midfield with 5:32 left in the first.

The Big Red offense went to work again, moving 51 yards on 10 plays. Price found the end zone from five yards out on the first play of the second quarter, the PAT kick missed the mark, and Muskegon led 13-0.

Zeeland Wast, suddenly facing the possibility of a blowout loss, responded with a touchdown of its own, going 61 yards in nine plays. Parker Holman scored from nine yards out, the two-point conversion was good, and Muskegon’s lead was cut to 13-8 with 7:05 remaining in the first half.

The Big Reds drove to the ZW 39 on their next drive but lost a fumble with 3:02 left. The Dux managed to drive to the Muskegon 35 but the clock ended the threat before they could get any points.

Muskegon’s Keon Drummer (15) moves in to make a tackle. Photo/Jeremy Clark

Zeeland West took the second half kickoff and drove to the Muskegon 38, then Dux quarterback Trevor Wallar threw a fourth-down pass that was tipped and snagged by Mills for an interception.

The Big Reds punted on their next possession and Zeeland West took over at its own 26. The Dux only advanced to their own 31, but decided to go for the first down on fourth-and-5. The snap on the play was bad and Big Reds took over on downs deep in Zeeland West territory.

Muskegon cashed in on the next play when Guy broke several attempted tackles, moved to the outside and romped in for a 32-yard touchdown as the clock expired in the third quarter. The PAT kick was good and the Big Reds led 20-8 heading into the fourth.

Zeeland West did not go down without a fight. The Dux scored on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Wallar to Holman with 8:14 left in the game. The two-point conversion attempt failed and Muskegon clung to a 20-14 lead.

The Big Reds’ Destin Piggee returned the ensuing kickoff from the 15 to the Muskegon 45, giving the Big Reds good field position, but the home team fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, giving Zeeland West the ball again, this time in Muskegon territory.

Guy dives in for a touchdown. Photo/Jeremy Clark

The Dux scored again three plays later when Holman broke through the middle and raced to a 39-yard touchdown, tying the game at 20-20. The crucial two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.

Muskegon started its final drive at its own 38-yard line. Guy ran for 16 yards on the first play, but it was partially called back on a holding penalty, leaving the Big Reds with the ball at their own 48.

Then Price broke loose for a 19-yard run, taking the ball to the Dux’ 27, and three plays later Guy scored his third TD, this time from 15 yards out, and the PAT kick gave Muskegon a 27-20 lead.

Zeeland West got the ball back with 2:43 left and started on its own 38 but couldn’t get any more points. The Dux drove to the Muskegon 48 and faced a fourth-and-7, then an incomplete pass with 52 seconds left ended the threat.

Price finished with 93 yards rushing for Muskegon.