Fehler was thrilled to prove Holmes wrong.
With the Trojans’ ground game completely stymied by a rugged Muskegon Catholic Central defense, Fehler went to the air, completing 9-of-16 passes for 184 yards and a pair of scores.
He also made his presence felt on defense as he intercepted an MCC pass in the end zone in overtime to wrap up the Trojans’ thrilling 24-21 overtime victory over the Crusaders at MCC’s Kehren Stadium.
“I saw their coach talking and he said No. 1’s a very good quarterback, he can’t throw the ball,” Fehler said after Friday’s win. “I’m almost glad we weren’t able to run the ball tonight, so that we could throw the ball and prove him wrong.”
Still, it took a tremendous defensive stand in the closing moments to allow the Trojans a chance for the win.
MCC drove down the field and lined up for a 32-yard field goal attempt with under 2 minutes remaining. Kicker Zach Campbell’s kick was wide left, but the Trojans were flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Crusaders first-and-goal at the 7.
Fruitport’s defense stiffened, holding MCC’s dangerous run game without a yard on three consecutive attempts.
“That was huge,” said Trojans’ defensive end Amilio Flores, who was credited with 18 tackles on the night. “We never doubted our defense for a second.”
That set up another field goal try as time expired, and this time, Trojans’ senior Dakota Gordon streaked in and blocked the kick — with his facemask.
“I came in over my big guy right there (Chris Hendricks) and it face masked me,” said Gordon, who was playing for someone special on Friday — his mother.
“My mom’s birthday was Wednesday, and I texted her, ‘Happy birthday, I love you,’ and she texted back that she didn’t want anything for her birthday but a ‘W’ on Friday night,” Gordon said.
The Gordon family, and the rest of the Trojans’ players and fans, will remember this win for a long, long time.
The game featured several huge momentum swings, from turnovers and penalties to crucial special teams mistakes.
MCC scored the game’s first touchdown when Ian Tyler recovered a blocked punt in the end zone.
Fruitport tied the game at 14-all when Jacob Breese rushed in and stripped the ball from Campbell, the Crusaders’ quarterback. The ball bounced once and was scooped up by Alan Jones, who sprinted 55 yards to the end zone.
Another blocked punt by MCC led to its next touchdown, a 7-yard TD scamper by Campbell with 6:17 remaining in the game.
Fruitport came right back on the arm of Fehler, who connected with Aaron Veihl on a 40-yard pass, then hit Mitchell Reyes for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 21-all with 4:51 to play.
While this was the first meeting between the two Muskegon County powerhouses since 1976, one Trojan had faced off against Muskegon Catholic previously — Hendricks.
The junior two-way lineman transferred to Fruitport this year from Mona Shores. As a sophomore, Hendricks’ Sailors suffered a 48-7 drubbing at the hands of the Crusaders.
“Last year, I got my butt kicked by Catholic,” Hendricks said. “This year, we played a great game. This win means a lot, especially to win it with all the players I’m playing with.”
Hendricks said a key to victory was not getting too high or two low after all the big momentum swings.
“We know that any game can change with any play, and we just had to keep our heads up,” he said.
Muskegon Catholic Central dominated the time of possession battle, going on several long, time-consuming drives. Their three-headed monster in the backfield — Campbell and backs Alex Lewandowski and Jessie Anderson — teamed up to rush for 214 yards on 67 carries. Lewandowski had 96 yards, while Anderson rumbled for 55 and Campbell sprinted for 51, despite being sacked several times.
Campbell was also nearly perfect through the air, completing 5-of-6 passes for 53 yards. His only incompletion was Fehler’s interception in overtime.
MCC coach Holmes said he was happy with his team’s resiliency, but was less than pleased with four turnovers.
“We did enough good things, but we can’t turn the ball over four times,” said Holmes, whose team falls to 5-3 on the season. The Crusaders entered the contest ranked No. 9 in Division 8. The Crusaders likely need a win at Traverse City St. Francis next weekend to qualify for the state playoffs.
Fruitport, meanwhile, remains undefeated on the season at 8-0. The Trojans are ranked fifth in Division 3 and play at No. 8 DeWitt next Friday. DeWitt (6-2) lost to Portland on Friday, 37-7.
Trojans’ coach Greg Vargas said games like Friday night’s classic battle help defign a team and a program.
“We want to schedule tough opponents so that we’re battle tested,” Vargas said. “There’s nothing better than winning a game like this in overtime in a hostile environment. We made some mistakes. I’m just glad we weren’t the only ones turning the ball over and committing ill-timed penalties.
“MCC is a well-coached team. They have great athletes. Some of those are our athletes, which makes this win even bigger.”
Vargas pointed to his team’s defensive stand in the final minute as the turning point in a game full of huge momentum swings.
“That was unbelievable,” he said. “We got a feel for what they were trying to do, and if it were me, I‘d put the ball in my best kids’ hands. They put the ball in the hands of their backs, and our kids were there to make some plays.”