Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
DETROIT — On the final play of Saturday night’s Division 2 state football finals, Muskegon’s defensive front met Warren De La Salle quarterback Sante Gasperoni behind the line of scrimmage and drove him back toward the Pilots sideline.
It was a bit symbolic. Despite any recent Ford Field disappointments, the Big Reds met their state finals nemesis head on. They pushed aside adversity with a combination of tangibles such as brute force and game-breaking speed and intangibles like sheer will and resiliency.
Muskegon rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit with a momentous final 24 minutes en route to a 33-21 victory over De La Salle. The script-flipping triumph gave the Big Reds their first state championship since 2017 and notched the program’s 900th all-time win.
When the clock struck zeroes, a group embrace ensued between Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield, athletic director Keith Guy, and other assistant football coaches.
“We wanted to play and showcase Muskegon football and I knew De La Salle was going to bring everything they had. Hats off to them because in that first half, the defense for them was lights out,” said Fairfield, whose team trailed De La Salle 21-7 at halftime. “Our kids stayed resilient and our AD gave one heck of a halftime speech, so this one goes out to Keith Guy.
“I’m just so proud of our guys, being down 14, and I think our schedule prepped us for this and our run to the finals against tough teams and being down early in games has allowed us to overcome this and come out and play the second half the way we did.”
A switch flipped for Muskegon almost immediately in the third quarter.
Barely two minutes into the quarter, Big Reds senior quarterback M’Khi Guy broke a 52-yard touchdown run to pull his team within a score.
A little more than two minutes later, pinned deep in their own territory, Guy found senior speedster Destin Piggee open over the middle and they connected for a dazzling 94-yard TD pass to knot the score at 21.
“At first I thought it was overthrown, so I was thinking I was just going to dive for it. But I was able to keep my (feet),” Piggee said. “When I was running, I was looking up at the screen, I saw (number) 4 gaining ground on me so I swerved to the left a little bit and just kept on running.”
Less than five minutes later, facing fourth-and-2 from the Pilots 23, Guy lofted a perfect pass to senior Da’Carion Taylor, who made a spectacular catch falling backwards for the go-ahead score.
Just like that, Muskegon led 27-21. The Big Reds added some cushion on senior Jakob Price’s 12-yard TD in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter.
The hard-hitting defense took care of the rest as Muskegon (12-2) capped its championship season with a 12th straight win. The Big Reds’ last loss came against De La Salle, 40-28, in a Week 2 matchup at Hackley Stadium.
Seniors Keon Drummer and Da’Shaun Wallace-Oakes and junior Darekeo Speech spearheaded Muskegon’s defense with eight tackles apiece.
“A lot of hats off to Muskegon. Obviously, we went there in Week 2 — that was a long time ago. I’ve been telling everybody all week long, anybody that would listen, that that’s a much better football team today than it was in Week 2 and they are,” said De La Salle coach Dan Rohn, who is an Orchard View alumnus. His team finished 11-3 this season.
“They’re deserving to be state champions,” Rohn continued about the Big Reds. “Congratulations to Shane, his staff, getting those kids ready … the community. I was proud of them. You know, I’m from Muskegon. The last team I want to lose to is a Muskegon team, but if I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose to a team that’s really good and (Muskegon) is really good.”
Muskegon won the rematch at the point of attack. The Big Reds outrushed the Pilots, 303-94, led by Guy’s game-high 215 yards and two TDs on 25 carries, including his 80-yard scoring burst in the first quarter. The cat-quick and competitive 5-foot-8, 165-pounder also completed 4 of 6 passes for 159 yards with no interceptions. He delivered some big hits from his defensive back spot as well.
Guy, who is the nephew of Keith Guy, did pretty much everything. As a member of the MHSAA’s Student Advisory Council, he handed out the trophies after the game to Rohn and Fairfield.
“If we could build tanks and military equipment out of what this young man’s built out of, we’d definitely be in a safe situation,” Fairfield said about Guy. “This kid has just got armor for exterior and just a heart that goes. It’s basketball, it’s football — it’s anything this young man does, it’s just ‘Wow.’ It’s a wow. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
A true student-athlete who is receiving college offers for football and basketball, Guy carries himself with poise beyond his carries.
Chalk up an assist to the mentorship of Uncle Keith, who doubles as Muskegon’s boys basketball coach.
“One thing that KG (Keith Guy) said last year to me, and this will stick with me for life, is there’s no such thing as pressure unless your life is on the line,” M’Khi Guy said. “I felt that, and when I get under the lights and I play with my team, I feel like nothing that’s in the way to stop me unless my name is getting called and I’m going to heaven. I just felt like there’s no pressure.
“It’s a lot of weight to hold because of course we’re the winningest program in the state, but I feel no pressure. I’m just glad to be able to say my name came out of the Muskegon Big Reds program and they built me to what I am now.”
Speaking of pressure, Fairfield has been under it in his 14 years as Muskegon’s head coach. Entering Saturday’s game, his state finals record was 1-7.
However, resiliency is a way of life for Fairfield and his football program.
“Just the emotions of having so many young people believe in me. Everyone has wanted us to give up and quit and not get here. ‘You’re going to lose when you get there.’ Like I said before we left (for Detroit), people want us to fall apart, want us to break. We will not be broken today,” said Fairfield, backing up the halftime speech by Keith Guy.
“(Keith Guy said) Go out on your shield. We didn’t come all the way here to get pushed around; we didn’t come here all the way to not fight,” Fairfield said. “And that’s one thing about Big Red football, Big Red basketball and athletics is we’re always going to compete and fight and don’t be broken. Just put your big-boy pants on, let’s go out here and play football the Muskegon way and that was it.”
Muskegon High School has been playing football since 1895. At 900-289-43, the Big Reds are the winningest program in Michigan high school football history.
Fairfield is a firm believer in the idea that one grows more from losing than winning. That doesn’t mean he likes to lose, but those setbacks can reveal a lot about a person and one’s faith.
“Losing in the state finals or winning — same for De La Salle, I’d tell them the same thing — it doesn’t define who you are. This doesn’t define who we are,” Fairfield said. “Winning a state championship in 2023, I hope, isn’t the best moment in these young men’s lives. I hope this is one moment of several.
“And if they don’t have big dreams, big goals, to use this to pole vault them into their futures and into successes, then I’ve failed them as a coach. I think we’ve learned so much from the losses and all the kids that have been on those teams have done great with themselves and the’ve gone on to college and graduated and they’re entreprenuers.”
With Muskegon’s win Saturday, that makes it five straight years that the MHSAA Division 2 state title has gone to a team from Muskegon or a squad coached by a Muskegon native, as Rohn led De La Salle to back-to-back championships in 2021 and 2022. Mona Shores captured consecutive titles in 2019 and 2020.
This is the seventh state championship for Muskegon in the MHSAA playoff era, which began in 1975. The Big Reds also won titles in 2008, 2006, 2004, 1989, and 1986.
You could not have written a better script for this one as far as M’Khi Guy is concerned. He is extremely proud of his team and his city. He knows exactly what it means to be from Muskegon.
“It’s tough, it’s hard, nothing’s given to you. You have to earn everything, and respect and love is all we get from each other,” Guy said. “We’re a family. You have real people that’s there for you, that are going to make you be what you want to be and help you to your guys, so that’s all I can say about my city.”
MUSKEGON FOOTBALL MEDIA DAY WITH CATCHMARK
CatchMark SportsNet put on a media day for Muskegon’s football team early this season.
In case you missed it, check out the images from that media day as well as the podcast.
Photos by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark
BIG REDS LINEMEN FEATURED ON CATCHMARK PODCAST
Finally, in case you missed the podcast this season featuring Muskegon offensive line coach Matt Bolles and two of his standouts, you can watch it here:
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