2 Quarterbacks Vault Muskegon to #1

November 1, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Stopping the Muskegon High School offense has never been easy.

This year, it’s twice as tough.

The Big Reds, 9-1 and ranked No. 1 in the season-ending Associated Press Division 3 poll, are attacking opponents with a two-headed monster at quarterback – diminutive senior Kalil Pimpleton (5-7, 160) and physically imposing junior La’darius Jefferson (6-2, 210).

 “I’m blessed with two great men, two great leaders, at quarterback,” said seventh-year Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield, whose team won the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black title. “Using both of them makes us a better team. We don’t go into games with a specific plan for when each will play (quarterback). We see what the defense is doing and how our kids are responding and go from there.”

The result of the dual QB attack has been a Muskegon offense which is averaging 54 points and 428 total yards per game heading into Friday night’s Division 3 District championship game against visiting East Grand Rapids (8-2).

Pimpleton, who has run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and has verbally committed to Virginia Tech, has started all 10 games for the Big Reds.

He is primarily a running threat, regularly taking snaps out of the pistol formation from senior center Devin Sanders and then finding a seam somewhere along the line to squeeze through. “KP,” as he’s known, has carried 101 times for 1,081 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. He also has been effective through the air, completing 34 of 66 passes for 639 yards and six more TDs.

“I look at the system we use as a chance for me to use all of my weapons,” said Pimpleton, who also has three punt returns for touchdowns on his resume. “It doesn’t matter if I am at QB or in the slot. My character doesn’t change, and my focus doesn’t change.”

As good as Pimpleton has been, there have been times in recent years where opponents have bottled up Muskegon’s running quarterbacks.

One example was the 2014 Division 3 championship game at Ford Field, where Orchard Lake St. Mary’s shut down the Big Reds in a 7-0 victory. Another was last year’s Division 2 Regional championship game at Lowell, where Pimpleton and the Muskegon attack got stuck in the mud in a 36-7 loss.

If that same scenario begins to unfold this fall, Muskegon offensive coordinator Brent White has a Plan B.

And what a Plan B it is.

Jefferson, who has the look of Cam Newton and the big arm to match, presents a whole new set of challenges for opposing defenses when he enters the game, which is normally around the Big Reds’ third offensive series. Jefferson brings a deep vertical passing threat, mixed with the size and strength to run over linebackers.

“I always tell myself that I can’t be stopped – that’s the mentality I like to play with,” said Jefferson, who also has delivered some big hits this fall during limited playing time at outside linebacker. “I just want to thank my coaches for using a two-QB system. Now we’ve got two hungry guys trying to win a state title.”

The benefits of Muskegon’s dual quarterback offense were apparent in last week’s 63-14 Division 3 Pre-District victory over visiting Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.

Muskegon’s offense struggled briefly in the early going before Jefferson ignited the Big Reds and their crowd with a 56-yard TD pass to Pimpleton, who had moved out to slot receiver. Near the end of the first quarter, Jefferson scored on a 2-yard run.

In the second quarter, it was back to Pimpleton at QB and he led a scoring drive, ultimately sprinting in from five yards out. And then it was back to Jefferson, who hit standout senior wide receiver Jacorey Sullivan on a 44-yard bomb over the top to complete Muskegon’s first-half scoring.

“The idea is that we have a system and our kids know how to play with either quarterback,” explained Fairfield. “If we do it right, it puts much more pressure on the defense, not knowing what they are going to get.”

Jefferson finished the win over Forest Hills Northern 7 of 8 passing for 175 yards and three touchdowns, along with 11 rushes for 91 yards and two more touchdowns. For the season, Jefferson has completed 42 of 69 passes for 724 yards and 15 touchdowns, against just two interceptions. He has rushed 66 times for 534 yards and 10 TDs.

The two quarterbacks are by far Muskegon’s top two rushers in an offense that lines up with four receivers on most downs. The lone starter in the backfield is senior Division I linebacker prospect Andrew Ward (6-1, 210), who is a devastating lead blocker. In recent weeks, the Big Reds have started to hurt opponents with jet sweeps featuring speedy juniors Da’vion McCall, Clinton Jefferson and Lonnie Clark Jr.

Fairfield, whose team has ripped off eight straight wins after a Week 2 loss to pass-happy Lincolnshire (Ill.) Stevenson, has guided Muskegon to MHSAA Finals three times in his first six years as head coach. The Big Reds have failed to take that final step on each of those occasions, falling to Birmingham Brother Rice in 2012 and 2013 and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in 2014.

Given that recent heartbreak, the Big Reds have made it clear since Day 1 that the only acceptable outcome this season is an MHSAA title. The next challenge is a dandy matchup in Friday’s District championship game between two of the top tradition-rich programs in Michigan high school football history.

Muskegon is the state’s winningest with 816 wins and 17 state titles, including five in the MHSAA playoff era. East Grand Rapids, meanwhile, has won 11 championships since the playoffs began in 1975, including five in a row from 2006 to 2010. The Pioneers have won seven straight this fall after stumbling to a 1-2 start.

The two powers have played only two times in history, with Muskegon winning both times.

“We need to come out and play our game,” said Pimpleton. “We believe in our coaches and that they will put us in the best spots to win. That’s really all that matters. We can’t lose sight that no matter who is out there, that is our one goal.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon quarterback La'darius Jefferson picks up yards on the ground this season against Byron Center. (Middle) Kalil Pimpleton, here following through on a pass, also is a threat to run. (Jefferson photo courtesy of Muskegon football program, Pimpleton photo by Tim Reilly.)

Moore Finishes Legendary King Career by Leading Crusaders to D3 Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

November 27, 2022

DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.

“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.

King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.

The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.

Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.

The Crusaders never looked back.

“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”

Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.

Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.

“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.

Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.

Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.

Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.

Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.

“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.

“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.

King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).

King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.

“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”

Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.

It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.

“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.

“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”

Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”

“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.

“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.

Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.

“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.