MUSKEGON – The ending did not match the very emotional script.

The undefeated West Michigan Ironmen, defending champions of the Great Lakes Arena Football league, met up with the Michigan Avengerz on Saturday night, determined to defend their title.

They had plenty of motivation, even beyond keeping the league championship to themselves. Scott Niswonger, their beloved team mascot, volunteer and all-around friend, was killed in a motorcycle accident on May 10.

The team had a special ceremony honoring Niswonger during the game, then announced that the league championship trophy had quietly been named in his honor.

The Ironmen’s Jose Taylor (21) rushes to pressure the opposing QB. Photo/Jeremy Clark

The only problem is that the Niswonger trophy went home with the Avengerz, who rudely waltzed into Muskegon’s Trinity Health Arena, beat the Ironmen 32-12 and took away the championship.

“It’s always tough,” said Ironmen head coach Terry Mitchell, who completed his first season in that role. “You go 4-0 and you practice to win a championship. Unfortunately we lost today, but we’ll be back next year.”

The Ironmen had to fight hard to beat the Avengerz in a regular season game last month, when they didn’t have longtime standout quarterback Alex Carder in the lineup. They were optimistic about their chances to do even better on Saturday with Carder calling the signals again.

After all, he had quarterbacked the Ironmen to a pair of previous league titles, and always seems to be at his best in big games.

But Carder only lasted for two offensive possessions before leaving the game due to a recurring injury.

The Ironmen’s Doug Woods tries to get the crowd pumped up. Photo/Jeremy Clark

It was a separated shoulder he suffered during the regular season, and Saturday was the first time he tested it in live action. Carder only played a few downs before taking off his pads and trying to help the offense as an on-field assistant coach, which is allowed in arena football.

“It happened when we played Ohio,” Mitchell said about the original injury that Carder could not overcome. “It was a freak accident. He was jumping over the boards to get on offense and he slipped. The dasher board slipped under him and he separated his shoulder.”

Backup QB Danny Hugan took his place early in the game but was largely ineffective, and the Ironmen offense sputtered throughout the entire contest.

The passing attack was almost completely non-existent. The Ironmen threw two interceptions and turned the ball over on downs five times.

The Ironmen’s Sterling Alexander runs after making a catch. Photo/Jeremy Clark

“It was very tough,” Mitchell said. “We knew Michigan was going to come and play hard. We just weren’t synching, and my biggest thing is we didn’t have some key guys come to practice. We needed that to get the chemistry right.”

Hugan is one of several talented wide receivers on the Ironmen roster, so moving him to quarterback also took away an element of the team’s already struggling passing game.

“It took one of our deep threat receivers away with Carder not playing,” Mitchell said.

The Avengerz had the only score of the first quarter on a five-yard touchdown run by Andrew Perkins.

Ironmen General Manager Nate Smith shows the new league trophy, named after the late Scott Niswonger, to his wife Anita Niswonger. Photo/Jeremy Clark

The visitors went up 12-0 early in the second quarter on a 20-yard TD pass from Kyle Isaacs to Tony Sykes.

The Ironmen got on the scoreboard when Raheem Stokes picked off a pass and returned it 30-yards for a touchdown with 6:18 left in the second quarter.

West Michigan tied the game on the final play of the first half on a seven-yard pass from Hugan to John Ross.

The Avengerz scored all three touchdowns of the second half to seal the victory.    eddie