DETROIT – M’Khi Guy was going to get his hands on the championship trophy no matter what happened in Saturday night’s Division 2 Football Final.
Handing out the championship and runner-up trophies is one of the perks of being part of the MHSAA Student Advisory Council, of which the Muskegon senior is a member. As much of an honor it would have been either way, Guy wanted to do everything he could to make sure he was handing the bigger wooden mitten to his coach, Shane Fairfield.
After rushing for 215 yards, throwing for 159 and accounting for four touchdowns, Guy got to do just that, placing the Division 2 championship trophy into Fairfield’s hands following Muskegon’s 33-21 victory over Warren De La Salle Collegiate at Ford Field.
“It’s awesome,” Guy said. “Last year wasn’t too fun for me, because I had to give it to the opposing team, Detroit (Martin Luther) King. But this time, I got to give it to my coach, my guy right here, and it made me feel great.”
Muskegon prevented De La Salle from winning a third straight Division 2 title while claiming its seventh Finals championship. It was the first since winning it all in 2017, and in between then and now Muskegon had finished runner-up three times, including a year ago to King.
“Everyone was wanting us to give up and quit and not get here,” Fairfield said. “‘You’re going to lose when you get there.’ And, like I said before we left, people want us to fall apart, people want us to break. I said we will not be broken today. We keep telling these guys to follow us and trust us. As much as they get the naysay, for these young men to believe in this coaching staff and their school district, in each other – words do not describe it.”
Muskegon (13-2) had to muster up some extra belief at halftime as it was down 21-7, and outside of an 80-yard touchdown run by Guy had gotten next to nothing going on offense.
That changed almost immediately in the second half, as Guy ran for a 52-yard score on the first possession of the half, and Muskegon wound up out-scoring the Pilots 26-0 over the final 24 minutes.
“They made plays and we didn’t,” De La Salle coach Dan Rohn said. “We went out there on that first drive and went three and out and gave them the opportunity to have the field. Then we did pin them deep, they hit us with a 90-yard touchdown pass, which is what we want them to do is throw the ball. Then we get an opportunity to get a drive going, we drop a pass, we have a fumble – uncharacteristic of us. We didn’t make those plays in the second half; they did.”
The 94-yard touchdown pass was what tied the game up, as Guy hit Destin Piggee down the middle of the field. Piggee had broken open, and Guy lofted the ball for him to run under. Piggee accelerated toward the ball, somehow kept his feet at midfield, and ran the rest of the way for the score, turning the game on its head midway through the third quarter.
“Really, at first I thought it was overthrown, so I was thinking I was going to dive for it,” Piggee said. “But I was able to keep my ground. As I was running, I was looking up at the screen and I saw (De La Salle defensive back James Wallace) gaining ground on me, so I swerved to the left a little bit and just kept on running.”
The Big Reds didn’t take their first lead of the game until the 2:16 mark of the third quarter, when Guy hit Da’Carion Taylor for a 28-yard score, making it 27-21.
Taylor had set the drive up with a fumble recovery in Muskegon territory and was tended to for an injury afterward. He returned, however, to make the leaping grab in the end zone.
A 12-yard TD run by Jakob Price gave the Big Reds a two-score lead at 33-21 with 10:43 remaining, but it was a later drive that didn’t provide any points that essentially put the game away.
After forcing a turnover on downs at their own 20, Muskegon drove 61 yards on 11 plays, taking 6:36 off the clock. While the score remained 33-21 when the drive ended, De La Salle was left with just 1:26 to score twice.
Even with that, though, Fairfield wasn’t satisfied until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“When there was 11 seconds on the clock, I still wasn’t ready,” Fairfield said. “I’ve been here before. We were four seconds away from beating (Orchard Lake) St. Mary’s in (2016), and they threw a Hail Mary pass. I was re-living that again.”
Price finished with 86 yards rushing and the one touchdown for Muskegon.
De La Salle was led by Sante Gasperoni’s 249 yards passing and 41 rushing. He had two touchdowns on the ground, and one through the air to Damion King IV. King finished the game with 103 yards on five catches for the Pilots (12-3).
PHOTOS (Top) Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy (3) pulls away on one of his long runs during Saturday’s Division 2 Final at Ford Field. (Middle) The Big Reds’ Destin Piggee (5) stretches to snag the ball on his 94-yard touchdown catch. (Below) Guy presents the championship trophy to his coach Shane Fairfield as part of his duties as a member of the MHSAA Student Advisory Council. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)