By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Muskegon Mona Shores certainly has a scary offense, with Division I college receiving prospects on the edges, two powerful running backs and a much-improved offensive line.
If only the Sailors had a taller quarterback.
If seventh-year Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak had a nickel for every time he’s heard some variation of that statement, he’d be an extremely wealthy man.
“People who say things like that don’t know Tristan Robbins,” Koziak said of his 5-foot-10, 173-pound senior quarterback in his second year as the starter. “He is tough, he is fearless and he is a leader – the guys rally around him. We are very happy with our quarterback.”
Robbins has come up big in two impressive wins – completing 7 of 11 passes for 137 yards and rushing for another 47 yards in a 41-23 win over Canton at the University of Michigan on Aug. 26, then turning around and completing 7 of 13 passes for 129 yards, with 90 yards rushing, in a come-from-behind, 42-20 win at Zeeland West last week.
Robbins has the chance to prove the doubters wrong again this Friday, in the first of two blockbuster home games on the Mona Shores schedule this fall.
Rockford, the perennial Ottawa-Kent Conference Red powerhouse, comes to the lakeshore this week, led by 6-5 senior quarterback Jason Whittaker, who has committed to continue his career at Northwestern University. On Oct. 13, the Sailors welcome cross-town rival Muskegon, the winningest program in state history, which features a Division I quarterback of its own in 6-2 senior La’darius Jefferson, who has verbally committed to sign with Central Florida.
Robbins is ready to rise to the challenge.
“I just go out there and do what I can with what I’ve been given,” said Robbins, the middle child and only son of Brent and Jane Robbins. “Our offense has been doing great so far. Now we get a home game and it should be a huge crowd, and that will just add to the excitement.”
Robbins was thrust into the starting role in last year’s opening game as a junior after senior starter Drew Switzer broke his collarbone in the preseason scrimmage. Robbins threw four interceptions as the Sailors struggled to a 1-3 start, which ultimately kept them out of the playoffs for the first time in three years. But since that rough beginning, Robbins has thrown 13 TD passes without a single interception, leading Shores to six wins in its last seven games.
“He has grown more and more comfortable in his role,” explains Koziak, who led Shores to the Division 2 championship game in 2015. “We rely on our quarterbacks to make a lot of reads, before the play and during the play, and he’s done a great job.”
Robbins follows in the footsteps of two standout, pro-style quarterbacks in Tyree Jackson (6-7), who is now the starting quarterback at the University of Buffalo, and Tyler Trovinger (6-1), the starting shortstop on the Oakland University baseball team.
Koziak said Robbins makes up for his lack of size with a series of intangibles.
• First, Robbins is a 4.0 student whose intelligence pays dividends in a complicated offense.
Lining up almost exclusively in the pistol formation, Robbins triggers an offense which features a pair of Division I prospects at wideout in junior Damari Roberson (6-2, 190) and senior Keyshawn Summerville (6-0, 175). Charles Allen and Ke’Sean Sandifer are dangerous in the slot and senior Dee Davis and junior Sincere Dent have been a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Who gets the ball on any given play depends largely on the position of the defense, explains Koziak, and the responsibility of reading the defense falls largely on Robbins.
• Second, he possesses incredible leadership skills.
Understand that Robbins is far from a prima donna quarterback; he’s a wrestler in the winter and played rugby for the first time last spring (“I loved it,” Robbins explained). He regularly inspires his teammates by lowering his shoulder and “laying it out” for his team.
• Third, and perhaps most importantly, what he lacks in size and/or pure athletic ability, he makes up for in an underrated category: grit.
Robbins’ true grit was on display at a critical moment of the Sailors’ victory at Zeeland West on Friday. Holding a slim 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter, Shores faced a crucial 4th-and-4 situation at the Zeeland West 16-yard line. After a timeout, Shores ran its outside veer, where Robbins had the ball with the choice of handing off to Dent, pitching wide to Allen or keeping it himself.
“The linebacker went right for (Dent) and I saw a little room and thought I could get it, so I kept it myself,” explained Robbins. “I was able to get around the corner and make it to the end zone.”
After opening the season with a 340-mile roundtrip to Ann Arbor and 88 miles back-and-forth to Zeeland last Friday, the unbeaten Sailors are expecting a packed house for their showdown with Rockford. This will be the fourth straight season the teams have played; the Rams hold a 2-1 edge in the recent series and won last year 37-23.
Adding to the excitement (and certainly the crowd size), Friday’s game will be the second “Sailor Salute” – a massive tribute to all of those who serve the country and their communities, complete with military responder vehicles, a U.S. Army Lakota Helicopter, 300 motorcycles, elementary students singing the national anthem on the field and even a pre-game performance by a U.S. Army rock band.
Robbins can’t wait to do his “small” part on what could be another huge night for the new-look Mona Shores football program, which made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 but has returned twice and posted four straight winning seasons.
“We do so much work and so much conditioning when no one else is around, which is no fun while you’re doing it, but it pays off on Friday nights,” said Robbins. “I can’t wait for Friday night.”
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 Mona Shores quarterback Tristan Robbins finds a crease during his team’s Week 1 win over Canton. (Middle) Robbins drops back to pass during that victory. (Photos courtesy of Muskegon Mona Shores High School.)
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)