Pulse Pounding Finish to See-Saw Battle

In a game for the ages, Muskegon pulled itself out of a 35-13 hole (a ditch dug by six turnovers) to defeat Davison in an MHSAA semifinal barn burner at Spartan Stadium. The Big Reds advance to the championship game next weekend in Detroit.

EAST LANSING — Stunning.

There are few alternative descriptions for the turn of events Saturday afternoon as Muskegon played perhaps its worst game of the season but left Spartan Stadium headed for Ford Field after defeating Davison 38-35.

The Big Reds came back in spectacular fashion from a 35-13 second half hole to defeat a proud Cardinal team that controlled the game for over three quarters.

"(We) came out ready to play," Davison head coach Jeff Putnam said after the game. "Had them on the ropes, just couldn't finish, just couldn't finish."

After two late onside kicks and a handful of timely big plays, Muskegon battled back to eek out a victory.

Confidence was not a problem for Davison in the early going. "We knew we could compete," Putnam said.

But for Muskegon, confidence and momentum swung wildly. After the game, head coach Tony Annese said Davison played a great game — then he refused to mince words about his own squad.

"Today we didn't show up to work, and we're fortunate to get out of here with a W," he said. "Today the best team lost."

Of particular concern to Annese was his team's dejection when trailing Davison by 16 points late in the game.

"We lost our confidence," he said, pointing to his players' withering body language as evidence. "Champions can't have that kind of body language."

Muskegon flexed its muscle early with a 49-yard touchdown run by quarterback Elan Banks to open the scoring.

The Big Reds kept the pigskin moving on the ground with options, pitches and straight-ahead smash-mouth football and looked to open a two touchdown lead after a long second drive.

Davison, however, had something to say about that and forced a fumble as Muskegon attempted to punch it into the endzone, recovering for a touchback.

On the ensuing drive, sophomore quarterback Jake Thompson completed a third-down pass to keep the chains moving, then, on the next play, wide receiver Ron Silver took a Thompson slant pass 70-yards to put Davison on the board and knot the score at 7-7.

Muskegon turned the ball over again and Cardinal running back Oliver Saylor made the Big Reds pay, with a touchdown, to put Davison ahead, 14-7.

Fumblitis struck the Big Reds again. Another Muskegon turnover on the next drive gave Davison the ball back with a short 36-yard field.

A 30-yard Thompson pass later and Davison set up inside the Muskegon 5-yardline, looking to make a statement. Settling for a field goal attempt, Davison's William Nicolai hit the upright and missed a 30-yarder, keeping the score at 14-7.

With a mixture of run and pass, Davison kept Muskegon off-balance, building a 21-7 lead.

As if awoken from a slumber, Muskegon went into hurry-up mode late in the half, driving down the field. Banks hit receiver Karey Webb for a 20-yard touchdown with seconds remaining, but the extra point try was no good and Muskegon trailed 21-13 at the half.

New Half, Same Problems

Muskegon returned to its error-prone ways immediately after the break. Greg Wickliffe fumbled on the Big Red's first punt return of the half, giving Davison the ball in Big Red territory.

Unable to move, Davison was forced to punt, but, yet again, Muskegon fumbled the return, and Davison's Kaleb Forr was found hugging the pigskin on the bottom of the pile.

Thompson made sure the Cardinals didn't come up empty again with a nifty move to shake a Muskegon pass rusher to find Adam Trafas in the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown.

Davison's quarterback wouldn't slow down. After a long Thompson run that was reduced by half due to a down-field hold, the Cardinal signal caller took a QB keeper through a gigantic hole up the middle and ran, untouched, 25-yards for a touchdown, putting Davison up 35-13.

With nine minutes remaining in the game, the Davison defense, led by Saylor and linebacker Matt Yoesting, refused to bend and stopped Muskegon on a pivotal fourth-down, driving what appeared to be the proverbial final nail.

But Muskegon simply refused to die. After a 77-yard touchdown pitch and catch from Banks to Webb, and a failed 2-point conversion, the Big Reds trailed by ten, 35-25, with 4:31 remaining.

Muskegon's Dominique Maybanks recovered an onside kick and after a quick Big Red touchdown, nerves were raw on Davison's sideline, where the Cardinals watched their lead shrink to a field goal.

The improbable series of events continued and Maybanks recovered yet another onside kick. It was as if the football gods decided the Big Reds had earned some karmic merit after fumbling away so many possessions earlier in the game.

On an option left from the 25-yardline, Banks pitched the ball to Wickliffe, who took it into the endzone for the go-ahead score with under a minute on the clock, setting the score to its final tally, 38-35.

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