Photos by CJ Bennett for CatchMark
MUSKEGON — North Muskegon’s football team is getting used to delivering in big-time moments against perennial powers and overcoming adversity along the way.
The Norsemen did it again on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Oakridge’s Russell A. Erickson Stadium.
James Young’s scrambling, fourth-down, 11-yard touchdown pass to Landon Christensen with 1:21 remaining and Drew Gabriel’s ensuing pressure PAT lifted North Muskegon to a 28-27 victory over Pewamo-Westphalia in a Division 7 regional final.
It marked the second straight Saturday that the Norsemen seized a playoff trophy on Oakridge’s field, as they defeated Lawton, 27-24, last week to captured their program’s first district title since 2006.
This is the first regional championship for the Norse’s football program since 1986.
Top-ranked North Muskegon, 12-0 for the first time in school history, advances to next Saturday’s 1 p.m. state semifinal against ninth-ranked Menominee (10-2) at Gaylord High School. Menominee cruised past McBain, 40-0, in a regional final Saturday.
The North Muskegon-Menominee winner advances to Ford Field for the state finals at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, against the victor of the Millington-Jackson Lumen Christian semifinal.
Sixth-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia closes the season with a 10-2 record, both losses coming against North Muskegon. The Norsemen edged the Pirates, 17-14, in the season opener Aug. 25 at Fred Jacks Memorial Field.
Here are more details and notables from the game, plus a reaction video and a couple of TikToks:
- North Muskegon built a 21-7 halftime lead against P-W and appeared to be cruising to a regional title.
- Young, the junior quarterback, rolled right and fired back left on a screen pass to freshman Cullen Bartos, who did the rest on a nifty run resulting in a 28-yard touchdown. Freshman Drew Gabriel knocked through the PAT and the Norse led 7-0 with 7:46 left in the opening quarter. They took that lead into the second quarter.
- P-W answered and tied it midway through the second quarter. Senior QB Dylan May scored on an 8-yard keeper and senior Gabe Miller made the PAT to knot the scored at 7 with 5:26 left in the half.
- North Muskegon jumped back in front a couple minutes later. On third-and-goal from the 3, Young found junior Drew Bartos in the flat for the score. Gabriel’s PAT made it 14-7 Norse with 3:06 remaining in the second quarter.
- North Muskegon extended its lead to 21-7 moments later. Senior outside linebacker Ben Meyers recovered a fumble after a shotgun snapped sailed over May’s head. Two plays later, Young found senior Alec Newville over the middle for a 23-yard TD toss. Gabriel’s third PAT of the half was good and the Norsemen held a two-TD lead with 1:33 left in the half. The Norse carried that lead into the halftime break.
- Saturday’s game was the first for Meyers since he suffered a leg injury in Week 3. The quiet leader re-injured his leg in the contest and was sidelined the rest of the way.
- Momentum flipped in Pewamo-Westphalia’s favor in the second half.
- P-W pulled closer within the first three minutes of the third quarter, as junior Brayton Thelen busted loose on a 23-yard TD run. North Muskegon jumped off-sides on the PAT attempt, so P-W opted to go for two, but May was stuffed so the score stood 21-13 in the Norse’s favor with 9:21 left in the quarter.
- On North Muskegon’s next possession, Young was picked up in Norse territory and P-W capitalized. May hit Miller on a 19-yard scoring pass, then May ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with 6:11 left in the third.
- The teams were tied at 21 through three quarters of play.
- P-W took its first lead with about 6 1/2 minutes remaining, when May crashed into the end zone on an 8-yard run up the middle. The Pirates’ PAT was wide right, however, leaving the score at 27-21.
- North Muskegon drove inside the red zone and were first-and-goal with third and fourth down inside the 5, but a couple of passes into the end zone fell incomplete.
- Pewamo-Westphalia took over the its own 2 and North Muskegon’s defense rose to the challenge. The Norsemen forced a three-and-out and after a P-W punt, they got another opportunity in Pirates territory with a little more than two minutes remaining.
- North Muskegon moved into the red zone. On fourth down from the 11, Young rolled left and saw nothing there. He rolled right nearly all the way across the field before he stopped and heaved a pass back to his left that found Christensen in the end zone to tie it at 27. Gabriel calmly made the PAT to put the Norse back in the lead, 28-27.
- P-W had one last chance and moved to the North Muskegon 40, but the Pirates’ final heave was broken up at the 6 by senior AJ Larkin in a scrum of players. North Muskegon took over on downs.
- Young kneeled it with 2 seconds left and it was time for the Norsemen and their fans to celebrate.
- Young finished the day 17-of-35 for 245 yards with four TDs and two interceptions, one coming on a Hail Mary to end the first half.
- North Muskegon junior Chuck Meyers made four receptions for 74 yards and he had nine tackles, including a tackle for loss, on defense.
- Cullen Bartos had another strong game on the ground with 12 carries for 66 yards. He also caught three passes for 48 yards.
- Drew Bartos made three receptions for 37 yards and a TD, plus he made a big impact on defense. He notched 10 tackles, including a TFL, plus a pass break-up.
- Other receiving stats for North Muskegon: Newville two catches, 35 yards; Byard 2 receptions, 28 yards; Christensen three catches, 23 yards.
- Despite being perhaps the smallest player on the field, defensive back Newville led North Muskegon’s defense with 15 tackles and two pass break-ups.
- Larkin recorded 13 tackles with the aforementioned pass break-up for the Norsemen.
- North Muskegon junior Henry Husmann brought physicality from his linebacker spot and totaled 12 tackles with a pass break-up.
- As for the Norse’s freshman kicker, Gabriel finished 4-for-4 on the day filling in for injury regular kicker, junior Owen Booth. Head coach Larry Witham said that Gabriel won the job during the team’s walk-through practice on Friday.
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