After three straight Division 8 state championships, the 2016 Muskegon Catholic Central football team had a giant target on their backs entering the fall season. Lesser teams might have folded under the weight of such lofty expectations, but the combination of experience, leadership and a few key players emerging into bigger roles, proved to be the perfect combination for the Golden Domers.
The Crusaders used a smothering defense and a trio of talented running backs to finish the season 14-0 and outscore their opponents, 612-77. The starting defensive unit for Muskegon Catholic only allowed four touchdowns the entire season and helped the Crusaders essentially coast to another state championship, while never trailing for a single second in their 14-game season.
“We knew we had a strong senior class coming back, so we weren’t that concerned about leadership or the seniors not being committed,” said Muskegon Catholic Central head coach Steve Czerwon. “We lost some extraordinary leaders in Jacob Holt and Nate Jones the year before, but we had such a strong locker room and a class of seniors that kept everyone focused and ready to do whatever it took to win the next game. The 2016 senior class is probably the best collective group of leaders that I’ve ever coached.”
One of those seniors who took on a bigger role in 2016 was Mason Convertini. The converted linebacker moved to defensive end to help the team strengthen its defensive front and he turned into one of the most prolific pass catchers on the offensive side of the ball from his tight end position.
“Mason Convertini was one of those kids that we weren’t really sure where we were going to play him his senior year,” Czerwon continued. “He had played outside linebacker for us, but we were thin on defensive linemen, so we moved him to that position in his senior year. We knew he was going to be a great tight end for us, both as a blocker and a receiver, and he was as consistent as anyone on the team on that side of the ball. I was surprised how well he played defensively, though. He went from an unknown commodity to a playmaker for us this past season and made our defense that much more difficult to move the ball on.”
The Crusaders opened up their 2016 season with a 30-6 win over Oakridge and a 21-6 win over Division 8 rival St. Ignace in Week 2. Those two wins helped solidify the Crusaders’ spot among the top of the polls.
“The Oakridge game was important, because the loss to them the year before really put us in a bad spot early on in the season, and we just wanted to start of this past season by getting that sour taste out of our mouths. St. Ignace was big, too, because we just played them in the semifinals the year before and that game went down to the wire. So to beat them early on in the next season helped put us in the driver’s seat in the Division and prove to ourselves that we were one of the best teams in the Division 8 field.”
Muskegon Catholic Central ran through the Lakes Eight Conference like a hot knife through butter with wins over Orchard View (42-0), Ludington (42-12), Muskegon Heights (55-6) and Manistee (48-0). They also added non-conference wins over Baldwin (63-14), Hesperia (48-7) and Redford Union (48-13) to end the season ranked No. 1 in Division 8 and undefeated at 9-0.
Road to the championship
Defeated Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 68-7
A year after MCC scored two defensive touchdowns to open their playoff contest against Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart; the Crusader defense upped the ante in the two teams’ pre-district rematch in 2016.
The Crusader defense scored three defensive touchdowns and added a special team’s score in the first half, as they rolled Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 68-7.
Cameron Martinez led the offense with 85 yards and one rushing touchdown on four carries, and added a 16-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ryder Smith. Dawson Steigman added 65 yards and two scores, while Logan Helton added 36 yards on the ground and senior Trenton Bordeaux added 32 yards rushing and two scores.
Junior defensive back Caleb Muskovin led the Crusader defense with four tackles, while Walker Christoffersen, Cole Charlesworth, Andrew Schulte, Owen Lindstrom and Jacob Martinez each added three stops.
Defeated Beal City, 42-0
The Crusaders used big plays on both sides of the ball to cruise to a 42-0 shutout win over visiting Beal City to capture the Division 8 district championship. The district title was Muskegon Catholic’s fifth in a row and 10th in the last 12 seasons.
Freshman quarterback Cameron Martinez accounted for five of the Crusaders’ six touchdowns on the day. The freshman phenom led the MCC rushing attack with 63 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries and was 6-for-7 passing for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Logan Helton added 53 yards on five carries, while LaTommy Scott hauled in four receptions for 109 yards and two scores as a receiver. Fellow senior playmaker Walker Christoffersen added 101 yards on four receptions and added a receiving score as well.
On defense, senior Andrew Schulte led MCC with 10 solo tackles, while freshman Nolan Convertini added six. Nolan’s older brother, Mason, added five solo stops and an interception, while Scott and senior defensive back Cole Charlesworth each recorded an interception as a well.
Defeated Frankfort, 35-0
The Crusaders were tested early, but big plays on offense and another defensive masterpiece helped MCC to a 35-0 shutout win over Frankfort in front of a packed house at Kehren Stadium.
Senior tailback Walker Christoffersen took over the game for the Crusaders, catching four passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns to lead the offense, while junior wideout Ryder Smith added five receptions for 120 yards.
Cameron Martinez finished 7-of-8 passing for 153 yards and one touchdown and added 10 rushes for 34 yards, while Trenton Bordeaux was 3-for-3 for 104 yards and one touchdown through the air and added one rushing touchdown.
Senior Logan Helton led the Crusader defense with nine tackles and added one interception, while fellow senior Andrew Schulte added nine stops, as well.
Defeated St. Ignace, 35-0
Christoffersen once again helped fuel the Crusaders through suboptimal conditions in Petoskey, scoring three times in a 35-0 Division 8 semifinal win over St. Ignace. The senior playmaker also added a key play late in the first half when he hauled in a 30-yard catch that set up a two-yard touchdown run by teammate Logan Helton to give the Crusaders a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Christoffersen finished with 201 yards on 14 carries for a Crusader team that finished with 341 yards on the ground. Helton finished with 40 yards on 10 carries to go with his first-half touchdown. LaTommy Scott added 53 yards on 12 carries and Dawson Stiegman closed out the scoring with a five-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes of the game.
Andrew Schulte led the Crusader defense, which pitched its third consecutive playoff shutout, with 12 tackles, including two for losses, and a sack. Christoffersen added a fumble recovery, while Jackson Riegler added six solo tackles and a crucial pass breakup during the only Saint Ignace red-zone trip of the afternoon.
State Championship Game
Defeated Ottawa Lake Whiteford, 35-6
The Crusaders outscored the Bobcats 28-0 in the second half, after holding a one-point halftime lead, to hoist their fourth straight Division 8 state championship trophy.
After a scoreless first quarter, Muskegon Catholic broke the plane of the goal line first, on a five-yard run by senior running back Logan Helton.
The challenger from Ottawa Lake wasn’t intimidated early on, however. On a third-and-long play from their 19-yard line, Whiteford junior quarterback Thomas Eitniear eluded an incoming blitz and raced 81 yards down the sideline for a score. With no designated kicker on the roster, the Bobcats attempted a two-point conversion, but the pass play fell incomplete.
That would be the team’s only visit to pay dirt for the rest of the contest.
On the opening drive of the second half; the Crusaders drove 56 yards in four plays, capped by a 26-yard burst by Helton to give the Crusaders a 14-6 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter.
After the Crusader defense forced another turnover on downs, the MCC offense marched 64 yards in seven plays for another score. This time, it was freshman phenom Cameron Martinez who reached the endzone after a string of juke moves helped him knife though the Bobcat defense for a five-yard score.
The Crusaders would add a 25-yard score on a quick-pitch pass from Martinez to senior tailback LaTommy Scott and an 8-yard touchdown scamper from fellow senior playmaker Walker Christoffersen to bring the game to its final tally of 35-6.
Martinez finished with 154 yards rushing and one touchdown on 15 carries to go along with 4-of-9 passing for 61 yards and a score.
Helton added 69 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries, while Scott added 69 yards rushing on eight carries and 28 yards and one touchdown receiving on two receptions. Christoffersen added 11 yards and one touchdown on six carries to go with 29 yards receiving on two receptions.
The Crusaders starting defensive unit — which finishes with only 24 total points allowed on the season — stopped the Bobcats on fourth down all five times they attempted to go for it.
Senior All-State linebacker Andrew Schulte was a big reason why, as he capped off his high school career with 13 total tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. Helton chipped in with 10 tackles, while Christoffersen added seven tackles and one pass breakup in the endzone.
The fourth consecutive title gives Muskegon Catholic Central 12 as a program. That mark leaves the Crusaders tied for second all-time with former eastside power Detroit St. Martin dePorres (now closed), and one shy of the all-time leader, Farmington Hills Harrison, with 13.
The Crusaders are only the sixth team in MHSAA history to win at least four championships in a row. If the team manages to make it five-in-a-row next November, they would be only one of three programs to do so (Farmington Hills Harrison from 1997-2001 and East Grand Rapids from 2006-2010).