The Crusaders hadn’t lost a game since Oct. 16, 2015, when they dropped a 35-6 decision to Detroit Country Day on the road.
Friday’s loss to the Wildcats was the first time since Aug. 29, 2013, that the Golden Domers weren’t able to defend their home turf. That was also the coaching debut of Muskegon Catholic Central head coach Steve Czerwon.
With the program enjoying a 27-game winning streak and not losing a game in 734 days, the Crusaders had forgotten how to lose.
Montague served them a harsh reminder of what that feeling is like Friday in front of a packed house in Muskegon.
“First off, Montague is a good team, and they were more physical than us tonight,” said Czerwon. “When you aren’t winning the battle upfront, it’s hard to run the things that you are accustomed to running and you have to reach on some things that you are hoping might work.
“Hats off to them, they were the better team tonight and they were definitely the more physical team. They controlled the game with their offensive and defensive lines. They also have nice complementary pieces on the outside with speed and quickness. When you get beat upfront, that’s a big part of the game, and it’s hard to overcome that.”
It was the Crusaders who struck first, however, as the Wildcats fumbled away the ball on their own 5-yard line on the second play from scrimmage. Dawson Steigman would sprint to the front corner of the endzone and give Muskegon Catholic Central a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the contest.
Montague didn’t panic, and drove 80 yards in four minutes, capped by a Bryce Stark 1-yard touchdown run to knot that game at 7.
In the second quarter, the Crusaders fumbled away the ball at their own 5-yard line, and Montague avenged their first-quarter miscue with a touchdown of their own. On the next play, Stark smashed through the MCC defensive front for a 5-yard score to bring the score to 14-7 at the 10:58 mark of the quarter.
The Crusaders would drive down to the Montague 16-yard line, but stall out on third down. MCC opted to kick a 33-yard field goal by Caleb Muskovin to cut the deficit to 14-10.
In what was the game-defining drive, Montague drove down the field with less than two minutes left in the half. With 24 seconds remaining on the clock, Montague junior quarterback Sebastian Archer lofted a pass between two Crusader defenders and into the welcoming hands of running back Blake Jones for a touchdown.
The score would extend the Wildcat lead to 21-10 at the halftime, and give Montague all the confidence they would need to carry out the road win in the second half.
In the third quarter, MCC sophomore quarterback Cam Martinez continued to extend plays with his legs, but the offense wasn’t able to capitalize the extra time.
Facing a long third-down conversion, Martinez eluded pressure from three defenders and attempted to throw across his body to a receiver downfield, but Montague’s Joe Rupert stepped in front of the pass and returned the ball to the MCC 15-yard line.
Two plays later, it was Archer who would scramble from the pocket; this time diving into the endzone from nine yards out to push the Montague lead to a commanding 27-10 score with six minutes left in the quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Muskegon Catholic would drive to midfield, but the Montague defense would snuff out a fourth down conversion attempt.
The Wildcats used that momentum shift to dial up a splash play in the passing game. Archer would fake a handoff and launch a 50-yard touchdown pass to wideout Kenyan Johnston to bring the score to 34-10 and send the Montague crowd into a frenzy.
MCC attempted to make a comeback late in the game, but Johnston intercepted a Martinez pass into the endzone with three minutes remaining to seal the Crusaders’ fate.
Martinez finished with 80 yards rushing on 16 carries, and was 10-of-31 passing for 131 yards and two interceptions.
Ryder Smith caught six passes for 69 yards to lead the receiving unit, while Nolan Convertini hauled in three receptions for 61 yards.
“Cameron was running around trying to make a play out there in a game that needed someone to make a play, so I can’t fault a kid for trying to make something happen,” Czerwon added. “We were forced to throw the ball more than we usually do because we were down. It’s just frustrating when you can’t run your normal offense, but that was the situation we were in.”
For Montague, Stark carried the ball 22 times for 111 yards and two scores. Archer added 77 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries, and was 6-of-9 passing for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnston hauled in four receptions for 88 yards and one score, while Jones added his 19-yard touchdown catch.
“He’s a good running back,” Czerwon said of Stark. “They ran the plays that they are good at, and there’s a reason they are averaging 57 points a game this year. I think it all starts with that offensive line, though. They set the tone.”
Czerwon’s message after the game Friday night was to turn the page and get ready for the second season.
“We’re in the playoffs now,” he said. “This game was like playing with house money — you didn’t win, but you’re no worse for wear afterward. On Monday, we’ll be one of 256 teams preparing to make a playoff run, and one of 32 teams trying to win a championship in our division. Nothing has changed as far as our goals and admirations — we just got beat by a pretty good football team tonight.”