DETROIT – Maybe the best way to put it is that the Muskegon Big Reds had an impressive warmup for the 2023 state finals on Saturday.
The Big Reds flashed some big plays from talented players who will be back on the team next season and could propel them to another shot at state glory.
And if they make it back to Ford Field, the Big Reds won’t have to contend with Detroit Martin Luther King quarterback Dante Moore and running back Sterling Anderson, who will each be off to college and unable to do any more harm at the high school level.
Moore, the big-armed quarterback headed to the University of Oregon, completed 21 of 26 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns, Anderson rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and the Crusaders raced to the 56-27 victory over the Big Reds in the Division 3 state title game at Detroit’s Ford Field.
Detroit King finished the season with a 10-3 record and its second straight state championship.
With players like Moore and Anderson, it’s hard to imagine how the Crusaders lost at all this season.
“That kid over there (Moore) is amazing,” said Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield about the King QB. “He threw balls that we haven’t seen in probably my career. It seems like we always see those kind of guys when we get here, but we’re here and played against him.
“I thought our kids fought. They played their hearts out. Nothing to be ashamed of. They played 14 games, and of course when you play 14 games it’s going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you got to wait 364 days to get here again.”
The Big Reds finished the year with an 11-3 record, a share of the O-K Green conference championship and district and regional titles.
Several Muskegon stars had very nice performances on Saturday.
Quarterback M’Khi Guy rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns, running back Jacob Price had 93 yards and one touchdown, and slot receiver Destin Piggee had a long kickoff return and caught a 71-yard touchdown pass.
The best part is that all three are juniors and will be back next season, along with 36 of their teammates, and another shot at a state title will be on their minds.
“Ninety-one percent of our offense and 87 percent of our pass game is back,” Fairfield said. “Seven of our 11 starters on defense are back. I’m not trying to wipe this one clean – because it hurts – but we’ll be back.
“Just like in life, you’re going to get kicked and knocked down. The greatest quote is when Rocky said, “It’s not about how hard you hit, but when you get hit, can you get back up?
“I’m excited for what we have going. We’ll continue to make these runs, so whoever else is out there, we’re going to be back here again, and we’ll be a better version of ourselves.”
The game turned out to be a battle of big plays, and Detroit King definitely had the edge, starting on the very first play when Jameel Croft fielded the opening kickoff at the 4-yard line and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown.
The PAT was good and suddenly the Big Reds trailed 7-0 just 15 seconds into the game.
After a Muskegon punt, King marched 77 yards on eight plays and scored again on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Croft, making the score 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
The Big Reds got a much-needed score on the first play of their next drive when Guy broke loose up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown run with 6:11 left in the first quarter.
King responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown run by Damon Stennis, and the extra point gave the Crusaders a 21-7 lead.
Muskegon’s Destin Piggee returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the King 44 and Guy scored from eight yards out eight plays later. The PAT kick was good and the Big Reds only trailed 21-14 with nine minutes left in the second quarter.
But King could not be slowed. The Crusaders went on another long drive, covering 69 yards, and scored again with a 19-yard run by Anderson on fourth down with 4:33 left in the second.
The Crusaders tacked on one more score in the first half, a two-yard pass from Moore to Stennis, and led 35-14 at halftime.
Muskegon kept battling in the second half.
Price scored from two yards out early in the third quarter to pull the Big Reds within 14 points at 35-21.
King answered when Moore connected with Jacobe Oblesby for a 13-yard TD pass, giving the Crusaders a 42-21 lead after three quarters.
Guy found Piggee with a 71-yard TD throw to make the score 42-27 in the fourth quarter, then King finished things off with an 80-yard scoring run by Anderson and a 12-yard TD pass from Moore to Croft.
King rolled up 529 yards of total offense compared to Muskegon’s 366.
“They weren’t expecting us to be here, and we proved a lot of people wrong,” Guy said. “It was a great atmosphere being on the big stage. I’m just happy we made it this far. We had two losses early in the season and I can’t even be mad because the team played hard till the end. I’m just proud.”
“We’re going to be back to work on Monday. We’re 365 days toward football and sports at Muskegon. We’ll get our rest tomorrow and Monday we will be back in the lab working on our craft. Seeing how this feels, we don’t want this feeling again. We’ll be back to work harder and stronger to be better.”