Jefferson scores four touchdowns to lead Muskegon past Farmington Hills Harrison for first title since 2008
Detroit – Since winning the program’s fifth state title in 2008, Muskegon had made four appearances but came out on the losing end in all of those games, including a heartbreaking loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 29-28, last season. It's a harsh reality the Big Reds carried throughout the 2017 season and going into the Division 3 final against Farmington Hills Harrison at Ford Field.
And on Saturday night, led by senior quarterback and Mr. Football candidate La’Darius Jefferson’s 245 rushing yards and four touchdowns, Muskegon won its elusive sixth title, beating Harrison, 28-10.
Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said that his team’s loss in the closing seconds in the 2016 state championship game served as motivation for the Big Reds this season.
“That’s been a great, inspiring thing for these kids,” he said. “Bo (Shanks) and C.J. (Jefferson, no relation to La'Darius Jefferson) both played their butts off and the bottom line is that was a great motivation for themselves to get back here and be a state champion.”
Coming out of halftime with a 14-10 lead, Muskegon continued to find success on the ground as the Big Reds went on a 12-play, 78-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard run by Jefferson to give Muskegon a 21-10 lead on a drive that took 12 plays, all on the ground.
Jefferson, who celebrated his 18th birthday, said that he and his teammates played with a chip on their shoulder throughout the season after last year’s loss to St. Mary’s.
“Most definitely, we had a chip on our shoulder until (the clock was at zero), we know how it feels to lose with four seconds left,” he said. “We had a chip on our shoulder the whole year, everybody we play, we said we were going to punish. We don’t want to put the game in the refs’ hands or let them have the ball, we wanted to blow everybody out and win by at least two touchdowns, or three or more.”
The Big Reds put the game out of reach in the fourth when Jefferson scored his fourth touchdown as he powered his way into the end zone from four yards out to increase Muskegon's lead to 28-10 with 7:36 left.
Muskegon rushed for 363 yardsand the Big Reds attempted just two passes in Saturday’s win.
Jefferson credited the Muskegon offensive line, a group headlined by Penn State commit Antwan Reed and highly recruited junior tackle Anthony Bradford, for its role in Saturday’s win, citing their success all season long.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I feel like everyone on this offensive line is Division 1, everyone could play for Alabama if they could. They’re amazing, they’ve been battling through adversity. We’ve got a junior at right tackle, we’ve got a senior at left tackle, a sophomore at center, a junior at right guard and a junior at left guard. They’ve been battle tested all year, they’ve been gashed and pounded and pounded and they just answered. I’m so proud of them.”
In the first half, Harrison struck first as Ben Williams took the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown to give the Hawks a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game.
Harrison legendary coach John Herrington, who guided his team to the state finals for an MHSAA Record 18th time in his career, said that he was proud of his team’s playoff run after the Hawks faced an uphill battle to make the playoffs early in the regular season.
“It was terrific, at one point we didn’t know if we were going to make the playoffs and to get to play at Ford Field is fantastic,” he said. “It’s an experience the kids will never forget and unfortunately they’ll have to remember a loss, but I don’t think that’s going to bother them for too long and they’re going to remember the good things that happened.”
But Muskegon answered right back on its first drive of the game as the offense marched 80 yards in 13 plays and lasted more than seven minutes as Jefferson scored from eight yards out to tie the game up at 7-7 with 4:34 to go in the first quarter.
After Harrison regained the lead on David Hiser's 30-yard field goal as time expired in the first quarter, Muskegon took its first lead of the game with just over four minutes left in the half as Jefferson darted into the end zone from 14 yards out.