Kickoff return touchdown wounds Morley Stanwood in 25-10 playoff loss

Morley Stanwood’s Trevor Underhill, with protection from Jason Bialik (24), attempts a pass on Friday against Newaygo in playoff action. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

NEWAYGO — Long kickoff returns for touchdowns can usually be critical against the opposing team.

It definitely was for Morley Stanwood’s football team on Friday.

Newaygo’s David Gonalez’s 96-yard kickoff return late in the first half powered Newaygo (7-3) 25-10 past the Mohawks in Division 6 predistrict playoff action.

“We moved the ball well,” Morley Stanwood coach Clark Huntey said. “We couldn’t punch it in there at the end. We were in the red zone a couple of times when we didn’t score and it could have been different.”

“Defensively, I thought we played great,” Newaygo coach Scott Van Essen said. “Offensively, we were sloppy at times, but we found a way to put 25 points on the board.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Newaygo led 6-0 at 7:56 of the second on quarterback Connor Swinehart’s 17-yard quarterback keeper for six. Jason Bialik’s 39-yard kickoff return fueled a Mohawk drive that ended on Alvaro Orjas’ 30-yard field goal, making it 7-3.

But on the kickoff, Gonzalez bobbled the ball at the 3-yard-line, whipped through the middle and raced down the sidelines the final 60 yards for the 96-yard play with 1:31 left in the first half.

“It was huge and it came right after they scored,” Van Essen said. “That was an absolutely huge play. We knew they we going to kick it deep and he made a heckuva play.”

“We played hard,” Huntey said. “We did what we said not to do and that was to not give up big plays. That was the difference in the game.”

It was 13-3 at halftime, but the kickoff return set the stage for a dramatic second half.

With momentum behind them, the Lions moved the ball on the first drive of the second half down to the Mohawk 9 before running out on downs with Xavier Raven making a key pass breakup on fourth down.

The Mohawks them moved 90 yards for a touchdown and scored on an intriguing play. Jason Bialik was hit at the line but the ball popped out into the arms of teammate Callan Dillree, who sped 36 yards for the touchdown, making it 13-10.

Newaygo moved down field with Swinehart passing 40 yards to Gonzalez to ignite the drive. On fourth down at the 4, Swinehart passed to Brenden Brechting for the touchdown and 19-10 lead.

Swinehart passed 24 yards to Gonzalez for another touchdown midway in the fourth and a 25-10 advantage.

Morley Stanwood drove down to the Lions 1-yard line but turned the ball over on downs.

“Big plays made the difference,” Huntey said.

Newaygo will play Fennville or Montague next weekend in a district title game. The season ends for the Mohawks.

Morley Stanwood had 238 yards of total offense.

Bialik had 80 yards for the Mohawks on 18 carries while Raven had 79 yards on 12 carries and Dillree had 60 yards on nine carries.

Jack Doyle had 11 tackles for the Mohawks, Jensen 10 and Bialik 9.

Newaygo had 301 total yards.

The two teams play in the Central State Activities Association with Newaygo in the Class B-dominated Gold Division and Morley Stanwood in the Class C-dominated Silver Division. They didn’t play each other during the regular season

The Mohawks had one more win and one less loss than Newaygo after nine games. But the Lions’ strength of schedule gave it more computer playoff points and home field advantage for this game.

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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