Cedar Springs “Climb the Mountain” and take out Muskegon in D3 District Championship game
MUSKEGON – Winning a road playoff game can often seem like an uphill battle for most teams.
For Cedar Springs, a trip to Hackley Stadium in Muskegon has felt like climbing a mountain in recent years, as the Red Hawks have been knocked out by the Big Reds in three straight playoff appearances.
The hard-hitting, hard-hitting OK Blue conference team started their annual road expedition with high hopes and delivered a far-reaching performance with a 21-14 victory over Muskegon to win the Division 3 district championship on Saturday after- midday.
Cedar Springs (9-2) will travel to face DeWitt (10-1) next week in Regional Division 3.
“It feels good,” Cedar Springs head coach Gus Kapolka said. “It’s like climbing a mountain. It’s a very, very difficult place for anyone to win and it’s just great to come here and finally get a win. I told the guys after the game that it was a relentless victory against a very good football team that had our number the last three times we faced them.
“It was a very physical football game. We were able to do some things, especially in the second half, that we haven’t been able to do in the past against Muskegon. We put in some hard training and put on some big plays so it felt good but man it’s an extremely well trained and very physical team and it feels good to get a tough win like this .
The Cedar Springs defense bottled up a normally explosive Muskegon offense for just 282 total yards and 14 points thanks to a streamlined game plan and disciplined effort.
“We had a simple game plan and we executed it well,” said Kapolka. “We had some difficulty defending here against Muskegon at times, so I wanted to keep it simple and let our guys play. Muskegon plays triple option football and our guys played responsibly, were disciplined and we got the ball carrier down. “
For Cedar Springs senior quarterback Aiden Brunin, the opportunity to take out the Big Reds in their own backyard made Saturday’s celebration even more enjoyable.
“You always hear that (Muskegon) is unbeatable here at Hackley Stadium,” he said. “It’s a beautiful stadium and I give all the accessories to their football team, but we came here and we beat them for the district championship.
“We’ve been close in the past, and we knew this team had something special about them, and we came here and beat them. It’s incredible.
Brunin has battled injury to deliver for his team this year and it was never more evident than on Saturday afternoon when he shot shot after shot from Muskegon’s defense.
“Aiden has been writing for us all day,” Kapolka said. “He was finally cleared to pitch without restrictions two weeks ago. He’s a baseball kid who had a tear from UCL in baseball in the spring, so he was really limited to throwing the ball, but I think he threw the ball well today, especially on this big pass to prepare the first touchdown for us.
Ryan West rushed for 116 yards, including 50 and 65 yard touchdowns, on just three carries and added a 40-yard reception to kick off the Cedar Springs offense, while Autwuan Nicholls added 79 yards on 12 carries, and Ryan Mitchell had 48 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
“My backfield coach always says Ryan isn’t an offensive starter because he’s mainly a defensive back for us, but man, he handles a blockade really well,” said Kapolka. “He blew two up for us today which really helped spark our offense and those are two of the biggest games of the game today.”
Brunin also recorded seven tackles to anchor the Cedar Springs defense, while Ryan West and Alex Ream each added six saves and Connor Diemond made four tackles and a fumble recovery.
The post-game celebration was emotional for the entire Cedar Springs community, as coaches, players, students and parents took a moment of post-game silence to honor defensive line coach Kevin Martens, who died suddenly in September.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” said Cedar Springs head coach Gus Kapolka. “We have had a lot of adversity this season. We had a tragedy at the start of the year that touched us all and we had a moment of silence after the game to remember (Kevin) and that is something we take with us every day.
For Muskegon (9-2), Jakob Price amassed 110 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, while Destin Piggee added 79 yards on eight carries. Myles Walton added 34 rushing yards on eight carries and had 3 passes for 8 for 31 yards and Jeremiah Dault caught two passes for 55 yards.
“I’m proud of my guys for the way they fought today,” said Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield. “The game was basically reduced to a 60-yard run and some big passing play to get them set up for a touchdown. Other than that, the game really could have gone both ways.
“Hats off to those guys from Cedar Springs. Gus has been working on it for a while, and we’ve beaten them a few times in the playoffs, but they stayed resilient and stepped up today and played really well. They beat us in a hard-hitting football game, and we wish them the best of luck for the future. “
Jaheim Mathis, Meshaune Crowley, Brian Wright and Tamereon Oakes all made six tackles to lead the Muskegon defense, while Mason Hunter added five tackles and Damari Foster and Chris Jones made four saves each.
Muskegon appeared to have turned the tide of the game with an interception from Walton near midfield with seven minutes left, but a sloppy slam to the disc that followed was recovered by Cedar Springs. The Red Hawks made it to Muskegon’s 3-yard line on their next practice and were over six minutes off the clock.
A missed field goal by the Red Hawks gave Muskegon one last chance, but their last chance fell by the end of the time limit.
“After getting that interception in the fourth quarter, I had already chosen what the two-point conversion would play after we scored to try to take the 22-21 advantage, but that didn’t materialize,” he said. said Fairfield. “These kids played hard today and this group of guys have had a great season.
“It’s going to keep the guys coming back hungry. There isn’t one person in society who has everything they want. You are going to have doors shut in your face and you are going to fail every now and then. It’s one of those life lessons that we try to teach the kids as coaches here in Muskegon. “
The Big Reds will return much of their roster in 2022, but the lost leadership of players like Myles Walton will be sorely missed by everyone in the Big Reds’ locker room.
“This is what you need to do when you face adversity and this is what we teach our players every day,” Fairfield said of Walton’s performance on Saturday. “You have to keep fighting and working hard to achieve your goals and I think Myles was a perfect example of that today. We didn’t have a great offensive performance as a team today so Myles took it upon himself to play defense and he really helped us prepare for a potential equalizer.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the job done, but Myles is one of those kids who is a great role model for the whole program. He’s going to have quite a legacy here in Muskegon. I think he’s probably going to leave Muskegon with the most wins of all time of any player here, and he’s just someone everyone can look up to.
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