No.1 DeWitt, No.2 Muskegon both have a lot of motivation in their semi-final rematch
MUSKEGON – DeWitt’s football team (10-0) was ranked No.1 in the Associated Press’s latest Division 3 poll of the season, while Muskegon (9-1) was ranked No.1 2.
Based on those facts, that would make the Panthers the favorites and underdogs for the Big Reds in Saturday’s 1 p.m. semi-final showdown at Lansing Catholic. Many types of media also make predictions in this direction.
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An underdog role would certainly be a rarity for the Big Reds, who have Michigan’s winningest schedule and are tied for sixth nationally in all-time wins with an overall record 868-281-43 since 1895.
Neither coach seems to believe the “Big Reds as underdogs” story, regardless of what the rankings and experts suggest. But if it’s like that, then Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield agrees.
“We’re No 2 and they’re No 1, and people have already picked the (state) finals and who’s going to play there and who’s going to beat us. I love my team, I love my guys, ”said Fairfield, who is 122-21 in his 11th season at the helm of the Big Reds.
“We were the underdogs. We were the underdogs in 2008 here in Muskegon (when Fairfield helped Tony Annese) when we played against Lowell and they had (Torsten) Boss and (Keith) Nichol and we timed them (49-14 in the regional final) . I think our children are very capable of playing the role of outsider. “
If you ask DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman, it’s the Panthers who still have something to prove when it comes to taking on the Big Reds. Muskegon is 2-0 against DeWitt in the short history of the emerging rivalry. The Big Reds crushed the Panthers in the 2017 regional final (49-0) and pushed them back in a tense semi-final last season (28-21).
Several starters returned for DeWitt on both sides of last year’s squad ball. Like Fairfield, Zimmerman loves his team, which he describes as smart, driven, athletic and tough. He considers his squad among the best he has had in his 22 years at the helm of Mid-Michigan powerhouse, but there is still work to be done and the Panthers face a big hurdle this Saturday.
“Well I know we’re 0-2 against them so I don’t know if we could consider ourselves favorites. We didn’t beat them and I think our kids see it that way that whatever team we play is the team that’s sort of close to having the opportunity to go to the state final, ”said Zimmerman, who is 220-45 with the Panthers.
“I think until we get a chance to beat them or beat them, we probably approach things a little differently, but they got our number and we all know that. I think we’re starting (from the point of view) that they’re the team we’re looking for because we didn’t beat them.
Fairfield has led Muskegon to the state finals seven times in the past eight seasons. The Big Reds reached the state championship in 2017, but they’ve lost in the state finals each of the past two years, so they’re very motivated, according to Fairfield.
Under Zimmerman, DeWitt made the finals four times and the other six seasons. The Panthers are looking for their first state championship.
“It’s their best team, I think. They’re full of guys, ”Fairfield said. “They were loaded last year – they had a really good football team last year and in ’17. This team has a lot of returning starters.
“(Zimmerman) does a great job. You go back and look at their history, look at their scores, look at the win-lose record, they’re right there. … They’re just some kind of silent assassin from the eastern part of the state who play a lot of games. It’s a good football team. It will be interesting to see what happens on Saturday.
DeWitt’s most impressive victory was a 43-3 rout of Division 2 semi-finalist Warren De La Salle on the road in Week 4. The Panthers are led by a first-team trio from AP 3- Divisions. 4 in junior quarterback Tyler Holtz, junior wide receiver Tommy McIntosh and senior linebacker Andrew Debri.
The 5-foot-11 Holtz, 195, who was an MLive Player of the Year finalist, completed 100 of 149 passes for 2,109 yards with 32 touchdowns and one interception. He also ran 48 times for 318 yards (6.6 per carry) and two touchdowns. McIntosh (6-5, 195) is his best target with 28 receptions for 692 yards (24.7 per catch) and 13 touchdowns. McIntosh also has four interceptions in defense.
Debri (5-11, 210) is a three-year linebacker starter and two-year captain, who has led the Panthers in tackles as a junior and senior (61 tackles this season). Senior linebacker Grant Uyl (6-0, 215) is next in tackles with 48.
Muskegon is led by Tyreese Oakes (6-1, 180), a member of the AP’s first overall team, who has signed up to Grand Valley State. In nine games, he has 45 tackles and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Senior linebacker Jonathan Adams (6-1, 220) walks the Big Reds with 67 tackles, while senior defensive end Kayden Smith (6-4, 215) has 39 tackles, 8 ½ for lost distance and 5 ½ sacks. .
Muskegon senior quarterback Amari Crowley (6-1, 180) is 68 of 102 passes for 1,008 yards with 12 touchdowns and three picks, and he has run 112 times for 884 yards (7.9) and 13 touchdowns. Senior running back Jacarri Kitchen (5-7, 160) leads the Big Reds with 1,098 yards on 97 carries (11.3) with eight touchdowns. Junior Myles Walton (5-11, 190) is a versatile player with two punt return touchdowns, including a school record of 95 yards.
Muskegon’s only loss came in Week 2 against rival and defending Division 2 champion Mona Shores, 21-14. The Big Reds are coming off a 24-0 regional final victory over East Grand Rapids. DeWitt, meanwhile, was inactive last week after Stevensville Lakeshore pulled out of the playoffs. When the Panthers enter the field on Saturday, it will be 64 days since they last played.
“They are always very well supervised. There’s no question they’re doing a great job schematically on both sides of the ball, ”Zimmerman said of the Big Reds. “I think they will always have athletes. I mean, they have great team speed again like they always have.
“You know, they’re physical. It is still a very characteristic football team. I mean, it’s a great program and they have a lot of guys who work really well. Certainly very, very well again.
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