Recent history between Mona Shores and Forest Hills Central suggested that the Sailors were going to have their hands full in Friday night’s Division 2 playoff-opening game on the Rangers’ field.
Sailors coaches preached physicality all week in practice. Their team took it to heart.
Two-time defending state champion Mona Shores set the tone early en route to a three-touchdown lead and finished off a statement-making 31-7 victory over hosting, fifth-ranked Forest Hills Central.
Sixth-ranked Mona Shores (8-2) advances to next week’s district finals at fourth-ranked Caledonia (9-1), which defeated Byron Center 28-14 on Friday. Meanwhile, Forest Hills Central finishes with an 8-2 record.
“That’s the best Forest Hills Central team we’ve played,” Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak said. “That was the best on film, most dominant, senior-heavy – they’ve got a ton of seniors, 27 of them. I’ll tell you, I was stressing out this week.”
The Sailors put Koziak’s fears to rest by turning in a dominant effort in the running game. They outgained the Rangers on the ground by a whopping 307-48 margin.
Senior quarterback Mark Konecny ran 29 times for a game-high 152 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to give Mona Shores a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. Dahmir Farnum added a 15-yard rushing TD to make it 14-0 midway through the second before Konecny hit Jaylen Vinton on a 50-yard scoring pass for a 21-0 lead two minutes before the half.
Forest Hills Central got on the board a minute before the break on a 52-yard TD pass from Hunter Robinson to Ben Scholler to pull within 21-7. After a scoreless third quarter, Mona Shores put away the victory on a 31-yard field goal by Kaden Pulaski five seconds into the fourth and Farnum’s 24-yard run with 2:03 remaining.
“The weather wasn’t all that great tonight, so we kind of had a heavy dose of quarterback run,” Koziak said. “It was more of a north-and-south game. They’re so good on defense because they angle all over the place and there’s no rhyme or reason to it – they’re just mucking stuff up, it’s hard to know who you’re blocking, but I think the kids handled it great.”
Farnum rushed for 94 yards on 12 carries. Konecny was 5-of-8 passing for 72 yards.
Defensively, D.J. Caviness and Kemper Millis clogged things up in the middle for Mona Shores and notched a co-team-high seven tackles apiece, while Drew Sandberg recorded five tackles and a fumble recovery. Ryan McNiff intercepted a pass for the Sailors.
Forest Hills Central’s Raymond Cargill finished with a game-high 10 tackles.
The Rangers could not get much going at all offensively. Their 48 rushing yards came on 24 attempts, while they completed only 6 of 19 passing attempts for 69 yards.
Last year, Forest Hills Central put quite a scare into Mona Shores. The Rangers were tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired, as the Sailors held on for a 28-25 second-round playoff victory at Sailor Stadium en route to a second-straight state title.
In 2018 at Mona Shores, the Sailors held off Forest Hills Central, 34-28, for a first-round playoff victory. In the 2017 district finals at FHC, the Rangers edged Mona Shores, 28-21.
Koziak noted that the average fan might not appreciate how good this Forest Hills Central team was this season. The Rangers’ lone loss this season was to Division 1 unbeaten Grand Blanc, 38-34 in Week 2, when Robinson did not play because of injury. FHC rolled Byron Center two weeks ago, 31-0.
“It’s a great rivalry — it’s kind of turned into one. They say (Forest Hills Central) kind of wanted this one. We played with so much energy, it was unbelievable. Our sideline was just crazy, into the game. It was obviously the best defensively that we’ve played,” said Koziak, whose team totaled 18 first downs to Forest Hills Central’s five.
“Offensively, we were OK, but it was totally our defense that won the game. … We were able to pound the rock and they just couldn’t. Our defense was stout today.”
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