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 [email protected] 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.)

1st & Goal: 2023 Week 6 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 28, 2023

Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season. 

MI Student AidFour shoud heavily impact league championship races, and the fifth merely will tell us how two more of the top 8-player teams in the entire state stack up among the elite.

If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)

Bay & Thumb

Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch

Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).

Greater Detroit

Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch

Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.


Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch

The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)

There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grayling (3-2) at Kingsley (4-1) - Watch, McBain (4-1) at Lake City (3-2), Ludington (3-2) at Manistee (4-1) - Watch, Cadillac (3-2) at Petoskey (3-2) - Watch.

Southeast & Border

Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch

Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.

Southwest Corridor

Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)

We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.

Upper Peninsula

Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)

This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.

West Michigan

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)

We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).


Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch

Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.

PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)