DETROIT – The wait is over for Muskegon.
The Big Reds lost in MHSAA Division 3 Finals four of the last five seasons. And when Ben Williams of Farmington Hills Harrison returned Saturday’s opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, the hearts of Muskegon fans sank a bit.
No reason to be concerned. Senior quarterback La’Darius Jefferson did what he’s done all season. Jefferson scored four touchdowns, and the defense allowed just three points as the Big Reds defeated Harrison, 28-10, in the weekend’s final championship game at Ford Field.
Muskegon (14-0) won its first title since 2008, and it helped take away some of the sting that lingers from last season’s 29-28 Division 3 Final loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – a game where the Eaglets went ahead on a touchdown pass in the closing seconds.
That final score was posted in the Muskegon locker room all season. Every player and every coach saw it every time they walked in.
Not anymore. Coach Shane Fairfield will take that down now that the journey to the championship is over.
“It’ll be all white now,” Fairfield said. “We’ll start all over again with a clean slate.”
This is Fairfield’s first title as Muskegon’s coach. Expectations are high at Muskegon. Fans and alumni expect nothing less than a title, and close doesn’t count.
“I got it off my back,” Fairfield said. “I get to continue what I love to do.”
The Big Reds answered Williams’ kickoff return with an 80-yard, 13-play drive to tie the score at 7-7. Jefferson ended the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Harrison regained the lead, 10-7, on David Hiser’s 26-yard field goal on the last play of the first quarter.
The Big Reds took their first lead during the second quarter on a 69-yard, two-play drive. Jefferson ran 55 yards on the first play, then scored from 14 yards out with 4:29 left in the half.
“We did well with that start,” Harrison coach John Herrington said. “But when you go against that type of size, you get worn down. I thought our defense played well. Passing is not our thing, and they did a good job of stopping our run.”
Muskegon held Harrison (10-4) to 61 yards rushing on 23 attempts., and also just 53 yards on nine completions through the air. The Hawks were held to 42 yards in the second half as Muskegon imposed its will.
Jefferson scored on short runs in the third and fourth quarter, and the defense did the rest.
He rushed for 245 yards on 32 carries, and his four touchdowns upped his total to 33 on the ground this season. He also threw 21 touchdown passes. On this night he didn’t have to throw much; he attempted only two passes, without a completion.
“We’ve gone against some great players here like (Birmingham Brother Rice quarterback Alex) Malzone and (Brother Rice receiver Grant) Perry. I was just hoping our guys could handle it and they did,” Fairfield said.
“La’Darius? What an amazing young man. I watched him play since he was in the seventh and eighth grades. He’s a selfless kid who loves his family. He wants all the kids (in Muskegon) to experience what he and his team have.”
As he has done many times this season, Jefferson went to the opposing team’s huddle at the end of the game to congratulate them on their play. In particular, he went to Harrison’s outstanding linebacker/tight end Ovie Oghoufo, who is committed to Notre Dame, and offered some advice.
“I told him to cherish this moment,” Jefferson said. “Not everyone is going to play in college. Not everyone is going to Notre Dame. Be thankful.”
Herrington, the state’s winningest coach, completed his 48th season at Harrison. The school is expected to close after the 2018-19 school year, and he said he’d be back for the finale.
The last time Harrison was in an MHSAA Football Final was 2010, when the Hawks won their state record 13th title with a 38-28 victory over Lowell in Division 2.
Harrison was one of only two teams to hold the Big Reds to fewer than 35 points this season, giving them their second-closest game of the fall and closest of a playoff run that saw Muskegon beat five opponents by an average of 37 points.
“Nobody stopped Muskegon all year,” Herrington said. “It was one of the better seasons we’ve had in a while. I enjoy them all. I can’t point out one more than the others.
“We have a few guys coming back. We’ll have 25 or so and go at it again.”
The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon quarterback La’Darius Jefferson slices into the Harrison defense during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield hands off the championship trophy as his players begin to celebrate.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.)