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Ravenna makes one more play in 7-6 playoff thriller vs. North Muskegon

Bulldogs’ defense gets the stops when needed in dramatic CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week.

RAVENNA – Both Ravenna and North Muskegon were shorthanded in their Division 7 first-round playoff football game Friday night at Citizens’ Field.

There was no shortage of toughness or heart from either team on the field. The Bulldogs were able to make one more play, score one more point – that was the difference.

In another CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week dandy, one where offense was hard to muster, Ravenna held off a dramatic late rally by North Muskegon during a 7-6 victory in which the ’Dogs had to fend off a pair of Hail Mary-type heaves in the final seconds.

“That’s what it’s all about right there. A few more gray hairs there,” Ravenna coach Justin Ego said, as he lifted his ballcap to reveal that gray hair, “but, man, what a ball game, what an environment. High school playoff football. I’ll take that win – pretty ugly, but I’ll take it.”

Photos by Bethany McCullough and Scott DeCamp

Ravenna (7-3) advances to a district finals matchup against old rival and sixth-ranked Muskegon Catholic Central (9-1) – Ego’s alma mater — which blasted Delton Kellogg, 54-6. The game will be played at 7 p.m. next Friday at MCC’s Kehren Stadium.

It was MCC that won a thrilling CatchMark Game of the Week in Week 9, rallying from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun host Oakridge, 30-28, on the tying touchdown and winning two-point conversion with 12 seconds left.

North Muskegon finishes the season 4-6 after losing its starting quarterback and lead running back/backup QB in recent weeks, in addition to handling the emotional strain after head coach Larry Witham suffered two heart attacks.

In the highly competitive, all-time series between Ravenna and North Muskegon, the Bulldogs now hold a 30-29 edge in victories.

“You’d rather just get blown out because then you know you don’t belong. In a game like this, a game like we played earlier in the year when it was 17-6 (a Week 7 Ravenna win at North Muskegon), we hung right there,” said Witham, who underwent a 90-minute surgery two weeks ago to insert a heart catheter and two stents.

Witham coached from the press box on Friday, just like he did last week when the Norsemen posted a 25-0 home win over Ludington to effectively punch their playoff ticket.

Ravenna scored on the fifth play of the game on senior Thomas McCullough’s 48-yard touchdown run down the Bulldogs’ sideline on an option pitch. Junior Hunter Hogan’s PAT gave the ’Dogs a 7-0 lead just 1:20 into the contest.

Ravenna senior Thomas McCullough (27) takes off down the sideline on a 48-yard touchdown run on the fifth play of the game in the Bulldogs’ 7-6 win over North Muskegon in a Division 7 playoff opener Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Citizens’ Field in Ravenna, Mich. (Photo by Bethany McCullough)

The score remained 7-0 until North Muskegon mounted a late drive and answered with a 6-yard TD pass from sophomore Ben Meyers to classmate Landon Christensen on third-and-goal with 1:04 left. The Norse’s ensuing two-point pass fell incomplete, but they were not done yet.

North Muskegon senior Matt Colbert recovered a well-executed onside kick by freshman Owen Booth at the Ravenna 42, and the Norsemen had a real chance to pull it out with 1:02 remaining. The Norse moved to the Bulldogs’ 30, but after a penalty, two heaves from the 35 dropped to the soggy grass field and the ’Dogs survived.

“These are the kind that haunt you for 364 days,” he said. “I’ll watch this film a lot, wondering woulda, coulda, shoulda. But my hat’s off to those guys (Ravenna) – that’s a pretty good football team we played tonight. We’re a pretty good football team, too, and we’re very young so we’ll be back.”

Witham may have been even more perturbed when he finally glanced at the final stats after the game: North Muskegon held Ravenna to 48 yards of offense on 46 plays, while the Norsemen totaled 136 on 51 plays.

While the Bulldogs came up empty on some red-zone chances, Ego was pleased with the way his defense hung in there and made the plays when necessary.

“If you would have told me after that first touchdown that that was going to be the only touchdown we were going to score, I would have said no way,” said McCullough, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound slot back and defensive back. “But offense stalled and defense stayed tough, so I mean, by the grace of God we were able to sneak out of here with a ‘W.’”

Said Ravenna senior linebacker Brandon McFarren: “It’s really been our defense just flying around this season that’s kept us in a lot of games. I think that really just helps us keep going.”

McCullough finished with 46 rushing yards on eight attempts. Senior QB Kyle Beebe was 5-of-12 passing for 22 yards for the Bulldogs, who were led by senior Grant Becklin’s 6 ½ tackles, senior Zeke Thompson’s 5 ½ stops and sophomore Drew Mabrito’s 4 ½ tackles. McFarren had four stops.

Neither McCullough nor Mabrito played in the regular-season meeting against North Muskegon, which lost freshman starting QB James Young to a fractured collar bone in that game. Norse junior running back/backup QB Denny Belmonte separated his shoulder in Week 8. Neither player dressed in Friday’s game, nor did Ravenna senior lineman Michael Olthof and senior slot/defensive back Owen Scott because of injuries.

North Muskegon sophomore quarterback Ben Meyers (8) tries to get around the corner as Ravenna senior linebacker Brandon McFarren (62) fends off a block during a Division 7 playoff opener Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Citizens Field in Ravenna, Mich. (Photo by Bethan McCullough)

Meyers led all rushers with 78 yards on 22 carries, and he went 6-of-17 passing for 29 yards. Sophomore Alec Newville paced North Muskegon defensively with 5 ½ tackles, while senior Quinn Kersman had 4 ½ stops.

“I love the seniors. They mean a lot to me and I feel bad for ’em,” Meyers said. “Came up a little short. Next year, going to get back at it in the offseason and work and work.”

Next Friday’s Ravenna-MCC district final will pit Ego against his close friend and former Crusaders teammate, coach Steve Czerwon.

Ego was trying to calm himself and soak in Friday’s thrilling victory before turning the attention to MCC.

“Catholic is going to be a tough game and I know they’ve got all the experience and that kind of stuff,” Ego said. “Just kind of having (Friday’s hard-fought win) under our belt now and adversity like that and they fought through, I think it will help us, but we’ve definitely got our work cut out because they’re a heck of a team.

“I’m going to take 24 hours and enjoy this one. It was exciting. Coach Czerwon’s a good friend of mine, so I think it will be exciting, but right now I’m just going to kind of celebrate this one with my team and my coaches and kind of worry about that on Sunday.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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