Tommy Scott, of Muskegon Catholic Central, carries the ball up the field as Kyle Wiswell, of Mendon, attempts to bring him down as Alex Lewandoski, (15), and Jacob Holt, (77), attempt to block during the regional football finals on Nov. 16, 2013. Muskegon Catholic Central beat Mendon 28-12. (Natalie Kolb | MLive.com)
By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle
MUSKEGON, MI — The Muskegon Catholic Central-Mendon football matchup is Muskegon’s MLive.com Game of the Week as selected by fans.
The Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders (11-0) enter the game with a convincing 42-0 shutout over Fowler last week, while the Mendon Hornets (10-1) are coming off a 35-8 win against Climax-Scotts.
The Division 8 regional game will be hosted by MCC and kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 15.
Here are five things to watch for:
Let the record show
The two teams have a combined record of 21-1 this season, with Mendon’s one loss coming in week three against Watervliet. The Hornets’ loss came in a game when they didn’t play eight of their starting seniors because of a one-game suspension. The suspension came at a bad time for Mendon, as Watervliet was one of the Hornets’ toughest opponents. Watervliet has a 10-1 record of its own at this point in the season and is playing in the Division 6 regional finals.
Outside of the 18-13 loss to the Panthers, Mendon’s only close game came a week later as it won by eight points against Niles Brandywine. As for MCC, the Crusaders’ current undefeated season has seen five shutouts with their closest game being a 10-point win at the beginning of the season against Columbus (Ohio) Bishop Hartley.
Injuries and roster turnover
MCC is returning most of its starters from last year’s squad whereas Mendon has had to deal with several injuries throughout the season. Crusaders head coach Steve Czerwon said this should not be an issue for the Hornets come Saturday.
“When you get to this point of the season, they have kids who have had a ton of starts and playing time,” Czerwon said. “They’ve got such a good program that they can keep bringing up kids from JV year after year to fill in those spots.”
According to Wes Morgan, publisher and editor for joeinsider.com, who frequently covers Mendon football, the Hornets’ No. 1 problem this season has been dealing with injuries. Having already been thin in numbers, Mendon had one injury after another which forced head coach John Schwartz to play musical chairs with his players.
“They have had so many guys playing different positions,” Morgan said. “They lost a lot of guys, returning probably about half the starters from last year. I spoke with John Schwartz and he said this has been the most challenging year of his coaching career.”
Look for a sound run game
The Crusaders and the Hornets are two teams that like to pound the ball while controlling the clock. The majority of the Crusaders offense comes from their ground attack, which has accumulated more than 4,000 rushing yards with at least 1,500 of them being claimed by starting running back Tommy Scott.
As for Mendon, Morgan said the Hornets have had to change their backfield this season because of injuries. Elijah Klepper, who was originally a fullback, stepped in as their primary running back and leads the team in all rushing categories.
“(Mendon) does some good things out of the I-formation,” Czerwon said. “They are fundamentally sound. I think the tailback is the key to them, but they are a pretty diverse bunch.”
A tale of two halves
The main story for the Crusaders this season has been the early leads. With blowout win after blowout win, MCC gets out to a lead and keeps it.
For Mendon this season, Morgan said this has not been the case.
“They are a second-half team,” he said. “Every time you think somebody gives them a good game, they run away with it in the second half. Their coaches are great at making changes at halftime. Their adjustments are spot on.”
However, the Hornets cannot afford to start out slow against MCC and their high-flying offense. Whenever Mendon has been down to start the second half this season, it has only been by one score. Normally, the Crusaders have built a five-touchdown lead and have a running clock in the second half.
This additive would make things more difficult should Mendon be down big.
A rivalry in the playoffs
This is the fourth consecutive season in which these two teams will face one another in the playoffs.
With MCC having won the last two, the Crusaders hold the edge, going 2-1 over their last three meetings. What’s different about this upcoming game is that the Crusaders will have home-field advantage.
“For the last three years, it’s been us going down there,” Czerwon said. “Now they’re the ones who have to get out of bed early and make that trip.”
That means Mendon has to travel 118 miles each way and go up against not only the Crusaders’ team, but their fans as well. When asked if it’s ever a concern playing a team four years in a row in the playoffs, Czerwon said those circumstances come with the success.
“Anyone who is in the playoffs consistently is going to run across familiar opponents,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different with Mendon. It’s just another team you got to play to advance.”
Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 12, 2014)