NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — If you were to go back to the middle of the high school football regular season, this game would’ve been written down as a blowout on paper.
Mona Shores hadn’t lost a game since 2019, while Caledonia was sitting at 1-4 without much going for it in the 2020 season.
Yet when the two teams met in the District Final matchup for the Division 2 Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs, the game went down to the wire.
While the Fighting Scots (4-5) gave the Sailors (9-0) everything they had, in the end, it was Mona Shores advancing to the regional final with a 43-35 victory Friday night in Muskegon.
“I mean (Caledonia) was down 21-7 at one point, so give them credit for sticking to their game plan,” said Sailors head coach Matt Koziak. “But a credit to our kids for not giving up and understanding every play matters.”
Star quarterback Brady Rose led the Sailors. The senior had another outstanding night, rushing 13 times for 115 yards with two scores, completing 7-of-10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown while adding 16 tackles on defense.
“The entire game, we just wanted to get it in the end zone as quickly as possible because we knew they’d have answers,” Rose said. “It just feels good to be moving on.”
It didn’t take long for the Sailors to get it going with the ball. Following a fumble recovery, Elijah Farnum scored on a reverse play. It was Mona Shores’ first offensive play of the game and it led 7-0.
The Sailors kept coming. Star quarterback Brady Rose scored on a QB keeper of 64 yards and put the Sailors up 14-0. Following a Caledonia score, Johnson would score his second touchdown of the night on a breakaway run from near midfield.
Mona Shores was scoring a lot and with efficiency, needing just 10 offensive plays to score three touchdowns and led 21-7.
Then, the Fighting Scots found their groove.
Carson Vanderhoff, who rushed for 343 yards in the week prior, capped off a lengthy drive with a 1-yard score to make it 21-13. Then the Sailors would fumble the ball and give it back to Caledonia deep in its own territory.
Quarterback Mason McKenzie and fullback Luke Mandsager made them pay with a 25-yard touchdown strike through the air. Following a converted 2-point try, the game was suddenly notched up at 21 all with 14 unanswered points from the Fighting Scots. It would stay that way into halftime.
Caledonia felt good about itself, erasing a large deficit heading into the locker room. The Sailors needed to find an answer.
“To have the ball coming out of the half was huge,” Koziak said. “We knew we had to punch it in with how touchdowns were being traded.”
On the first drive of the second half, it did just that. Johnson scored another rushing touchdown, his second of the game, from a yard out. It gave the Sailors a one-score lead, only to see it vanish when the Fighting Scots scored again on the following possession. Nicholas Fox took a screen pass in on a 4th and goal to notch things back up at 28 all.
After both teams traded scores yet again, Mona Shores took over with a little over 6 minutes to play in a 35-35 slugfest. The Sailors had scored on big plays all night, but when they needed it most, it put together a drive where it watched the clock tick under 1:30 to play.
Of course, it still needed the big play to seal the game. And who else would it be besides Mr. Everything for the Sailors offense.
Rose would take it from the 13-yard line on a quarterback keeper, break a pair of tackles, and raced to the goal line for the eventual game-winning score. He turned a broken extra point into a 2-point conversion.
It’s just another day at the office for Rose, who has been the leader of this offense week in and out.
“We just knew if we scored with not much time left, they would have to throw the ball and they aren’t much of a throwing team,” Rose said. “I just tried to get into the end zone and make the right read.”
Sailors defensive back Gary Humphrey had an interception of what was essentially the last chance for Caledonia to put the game away.
The Sailors now move on to play East Lansing in the Division 2 regional final. The location is still to be decided. Caledonia entered the playoffs as a 7-seed and gave Mona Shores everything it could handle, ending its season at 4-5.