Football Frenzy: High stakes for unbeatens in semifinals

(file photo)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Muskegon football team has experienced its share of heartbreak over the past five years while pursuing a state championship.

It has fueled the Big Reds’ motivation to complete unfinished business.

“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” head coach Shane Fairfield said. “The teams before us have done this before. They’ve won a regional championship and they’ve gone to the state finals, but we are still walking around with that edge. They are hungry to finish what the other four teams could not.”

The Big Reds have been a regular fixture in the state championship game, appearing three straight years from 2012 to 2014 and again last season. However, they have come up short of their ultimate goal each time. Muskegon will get yet another chance to visit Ford Field if they can get through one more obstacle.

The Big Reds face undefeated Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-0) on Saturday at East Kentwood High School in a Division 3 semifinal matchup.

Muskegon also is 12-0 after blanking DeWitt 49-0 last week to win a regional crown.

The Big Reds have averaged 50 points per game in the postseason, led by standout quarterback La’Darius Jefferson. Jefferson has accounted for nearly 3,000 yards this season and tallied 50 touchdowns.

Muskegon’s defense has registered six shutouts.

“After 12 weeks, these guys have a nice little swag about them and a belief in themselves,” Fairfield said. “They’ve had a resurgence of energy at this point in the season.”

FOREST HILLS CENTRAL: ‘WE’VE BEEN ON THE BIG STAGE ALREADY’

Another unbeaten team, Forest Hills Central, is looking to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in more than 20 years.

The Rangers haven’t reached the state title game since 1994, when they lost to Farmington Hills Harrison, 17-13.

Last week’s regional championship was their first since 1995, the same year they failed to reach the state final after falling to Lapeer West 10-0.

Forest Hills Central (12-0) will play Livonia Franklin (10-2) at Grand Ledge in a Division 2 semifinal. Livonia Franklin defeated Flushing to earn their regional championship.

Rangers coach Tim Rogers doesn’t think the high stakes involved will affect his team’s mentality.

“When you play Lowell and you play Mona Shores and you go play West Ottawa, we feel like we’ve been on the big stage already,” Rogers said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to reflect on that experience and keep calm and play to the best of our ability.”

Forest Hills Central will lean on its talent and experience.

“There are a lot of good football players on this team and guys that have played a lot of varsity football, too,” Rogers said. “We have a lot of three-year starters out there playing football for us now and you can tell because we’ve become a very good football team. It was such a great reward last week to get to that level and win a regional championship, so hopefully we will continue to keep it going.”

The following is a list of West Michigan teams that will compete Saturday in their respective state semifinal games:

Division 2

  • Forest Hills Central (12-0) vs. Livonia Franklin (10-2) at Grand Ledge

Division 3

  • Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-0) vs. Muskegon (12-0) at East Kentwood

Division 4

  • Grand Rapids Catholic Central (12-0) vs. Escanaba (10-2) at Traverse City
  • Edwardsburg (11-1) vs. River Rouge (10-2) at Jackson

Division 5

  • Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-2) vs. Frankenmuth (12-0) at Fenton

Division 7

  • Saugatuck (9-3) vs. Madison Heights (12-0) at Lansing Catholic

Division 8

  • Mendon (12-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Howell

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