Photos by Shayla Hardy for CatchMark
MUSKEGON — North Muskegon knew it would have its hands full at the line of scrimmage against a big and strong Lawton squad in the Division 7 district football finals Saturday afternoon at Oakridge’s Russell A. Erickson Stadium.
For the first time this season, the Norsemen trailed at halftime. Their deficit grew to 11 in the third quarter.
Backed into a corner, North Muskegon exhibited mental and physical toughness. The Norsemen picked themselves up and they made history.
Top-ranked North Muskegon’s 27-24 comeback victory over perennial power, fourth-ranked Lawton secured the program’s first district title since 2006, before some of the Norse players were even born.
Next up for North Muskegon — 11-0 for the first time since 1986 — is a regional finals showdown against another perennial power, Pewamo-Westphalia (10-1). North Muskegon handed P-W its lone loss of the season, 17-14, in Week 1 at Fred Jacks Memorial Field.
The regional finals day and site are yet to be announced. Pewamo-Westphalia rolled past Bath, 42-15, in a district final Friday night.
Lawton, which endured adversity with the early-season resignation of head coach Wade Waldrup, closes with a 9-2 record. Lawton was Division 7 state runner-up to P-W two years ago.
Pewamo-Westphalia captured Division 7 state titles in 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2021.
Here are more details and notables from Saturday’s North Muskegon-Lawton game:
- The game was initially scheduled to be held at North Muskegon’s Fred Jacks Memorial Field, but heavy snowfall on Tuesday left the school with intermittent power and didn’t help conditions on the Norse’s natural grass field. Later in the week, North Muskegon opted to move the game to Oakridge, brethren from the West Michigan Conference.
- North Muskegon struck first on junior quarterback James Young’s 1-yard keeper. Owen Booth’s PAT was good, making it 7-0 Norse with 1:46 left in the first quarter.
- Lawton answered to make it 7-7 when senior QB Aiden O’Brien dashed 59 yards for a TD. The PAT was good and the game was knotted up with 10:42 left in the first half.
- North Muskegon responded right away when Young hit senior Landon Christensen on a 57-yard scoring pass. The PAT failed and the Norsemen led 13-7 with 9:49 remaining in the half.
- Lawton answered yet again, marching down the field and capping the drive with Caleb Mallory’s 3-yard TD run. The Blue Devils’ PAT was good, putting them in front 14-13 with 3:13 left in the half.
- Lawton scored one more time before the halftime break. A North Muskegon punt was partially blocked, giving Lawton the ball on the NM 20. Senior Kal Motter scored on a short TD run and the ensuing PAT was good to give the Blue Devils a 21-13 lead with 1:30 left in the second quarter.
- Lawton got the ball back one more time in the first half, but North Muskegon halted the drive with an interception by Chuck Meyers off a tipped pass.
- Lawton got the ball to start the second half and moved into scoring position. The Blue Devils settled for a field goal to extend their lead to 24-13 with 7:26 left in the third quarter.
- North Muskegon mounted its comeback, first with Young’s 26-yard TD pass to junior TJ Byard and a two-point conversion pass to senior Alec Newville. That pulled the Norsemen within 24-21 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
- Lawton was driving early in the fourth quarter when North Muskegon’s defense rose to the challenge. The Norse got a fourth-down stop deep in their own territory and took over from their own 6 with 7 minutes remaining in the game.
- Moments later, the normally pass-happy Norsemen made the play of the game on the ground. Young broke free on a QB draw and ran for a 40-yard TD down the Lawton sideline. After two penalities on the point-after attempt, the Norse’s two-point conversion from the 18-yard line failed, but they led 27-24 with 5:10 left.
- Lawton got the ball back with plenty of time, but North Muskegon’s defense got another stop. Then, after a North Muskegon three-and-out, the Norse’s punt was downed at the Lawton 1 with 2:28 left in another crucial sequence.
- Lawton got one more possession, but North Muskegon held on for its biggest win in quite some time.
- Meyers notched a whopping 22 tackles for the Norsemen, including a tackle for loss and the interception.
- North Muskegon freshman Cullen Bartos had 15 tackles and a pass breakup. He also ran seven times for 36 yards.
- North Muskegon senior AJ Larkin had eight tackles, one for lost yardage.
- North Muskegon junior Drew Bartos had eight tackles.
- North Muskegon junior Henry Hussman recorded seven tackles and a pass breakup.
- Young finished 13-of-18 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
- Christensen had three catches for 99 yards and the TD.
- Byard made five receptions for 87 yards and the TD.
- North Muskegon senior Alec Newville had two catches for 33 yards
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