A young Muskegon Catholic Central football team received a crash course on what it takes to beat a playoff-caliber team Friday, as the Crusaders only managed seven points and turned the ball over four times in a 21-7 home loss to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep at Kehren Stadium.
"We never really got into a rhythm offensively, and we knew we were going to have some trouble running the ball on them," said MCC head coach Steve Czerwon. "That was pretty apparent early on in the game, so we had to throw the ball around more than we would have liked and that got us out of our comfort zone.
"That's a really good team that we just played. I have no doubt they will win a lot of games this year. We still have a lot to be proud of, especially with the way these young kids battled and the effort they gave the whole game."
Unlike veteran teams of years past, this year's MCC squad features nine underclassmen who play valuable minutes on both sides of the ball.
"We're young. That's just the fact of the matter," Czerwon added. "These kids will grow up at some point, and today, we learned some things. The defense stood tall and did the best they could. We had a blown coverage on one of their touchdowns and our offense gave them a short field to work with on another one.
"So, if you look at that in totality, there are some reasons they were able to score on us. A lot of it was due to our errors and those are fixable things this early in the season."
After an interception gave the visiting Irish great field position, Notre Dame Prep quarterback River Shea rumbled into the endzone from seven yards out to give the Irish an early 7-0 lead.
Notre Dame Prep would add another score midway through the second quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Shea to Clayton Bone to put the Irish up 14-0.
MCC senior tailback Dawson Steigman would answer back on the next drive, as he broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run to put the Crusaders back in striking distance at 14-7 with 2:44 left in the second quarter.
The second half got off to a rocky start for the Crusaders, as the first three drives resulted in back-to-back interceptions, followed by a three-and-out deep in their own territory.
The Muskegon Catholic defense would hold serve each time, however, and keep the score at 14-7 entering the fourth quarter.
As the fourth quarter began, the Irish entered the redzone and capped off the drive with a six-yard, read-option keeper by Shea for his second rushing score that put Notre Dame Prep ahead 21-7 with 11:17 left in the game.
The Crusaders would battle back with a few promising drives late in the game, but each one would ultimately be fruitless, as two possessions ended inside the Irish 25-yard line via turnover-on-downs.
Muskegon Catholic Central finished with 224 yards of total offense, with 133 yards rushing and 91 passing.
Tiovanni Knight rushed for 56 yards on 14 carries to lead the Crusaders, while Steigman added 53 yards and one touchdown on seven carries.
Price finished 11-of-24 passing with four interceptions,
Nolan Convertini hauled in four catches for 46 yards, while Dane Rutz added 42 yards on four catches.
On defense, Solomon Waller recorded 14 tackles to lead MCC, while Convertini added 10 and Knight added one sack.
For Notre Dame Prep, junior tailback Connor Gaeschke rushed for 81 yards on 16 carries to lead the Irish offense. Shea finished with 39 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and was 11-of-16 passing for 89 yards and one touchdown.
Senior tight end Michael Winiarski caught two passes for 44 yards, while Bone caught four passes for 15 yards and one touchdown.
On defense, sophomore Alex Whalen recorded seven tackles to lead the Irish, while Nick Pollack added six.
Notre Dame Prep won the line of scrimmage Friday night, establishing the run more effectively on offense and shutting down the Crusader rushing attack on defense.
"They were a little better than us up front, especially on defense," Czerwon added. "When you can't run the ball effectively or consistently, you get one-dimensional and predictable and that's what happened to us tonight.
"Max (Price) did a nice job for someone who is only making his second start. We asked a lot of him today, and he was pretty much throwing the ball on every play. Sometimes, things just don't go your way when we are throwing the ball around that much."
Muskegon Catholic Central (1-1) will travel to Orchard View (0-2) on Sept. 7 to open Lakes Eight Conference play.