Menominee defensive players celebrate Mason Kewley’s fumble recovery for a touchdown in the first half of Saturday’s state semifinal win over Muskegon Oakridge at the Superior Dome. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Menominee defensive players celebrate Mason Kewley’s fumble recovery for a touchdown in the first half of Saturday’s state semifinal win over Muskegon Oakridge at the Superior Dome.
EagleHerald/Jody Korch
MARQUETTE, Mich. - Who says you can't whip up a cyclone in the climate-controlled Superior Dome?

Menominee leveled Muskegon Oakridge with 24 minutes of whirlwind football and roared to its Ford Field dream with a 59-28 Division 5 stomping of the Eagles Saturday.

The unbeaten Maroons needed just 26 plays to light up the scoreboard for 49 unanswered points in the first half against a shell-shocked Oakridge team that carried its own championship pedigree into the game.

Fueled and fired up by last year's semifinal loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic, Menominee used the grunt work of its linemen and stealth-like speed in the backfield to turned Oakridge's game plan to ashes in the first half.

The Maroons pounded the Eagles for 121 rushing yards on 17 carries and Justin Brilinski diced up the Muskegon secondary by connecting on seven of eight passes for 96 yards in the whirlwind opening half.

Meanwhile, the Maroons let the defensive dogs loose, limiting Oakridge to 46 yards on 14 carries in the first half.

"That was the greatest half of football I've ever seen," coach Joe Noha said. "For our seniors, last year's loss was a big motivating factor. They didn't want to feel the pain the seniors felt last year."

Some of the most emotional hugs during the Maroon celebration were for the members of last year's team who made the trip to Marquette to watch their former teammates take care of some unfinished business.

"We didn't forget about you for a minute," senior fullback/defensive end James Brown assured seniors from last year's team.

Devon Harris set up the Maroons' first score with an interception and had TD runs of 12 and 30 yards and speared TD passes of 8 and 46 yards during the 24-minute blitz.

Brown staked Menominee to a 21-0 first quarter lead with a 15-yard gallop and an Aeron Forsberg interception set up a 2-yard Brown touchdown, which spiked the lead to 35-0. The bad news for Oakridge (11-2) was there was still 6:36 left in the first half.

The voracious Maroon defense added to the scoring binge. Brown popped the ball loose from Austin Wright with a jolting hit and Mason Kewley pounced on the ball in the end zone to pad the lead to 42-0.

After Brown sacked Wright for a 4-yard loss, forcing the fourth three-and-out of the half, Menominee added the finishing blow to its first-half scoring frenzy with its seventh touchdown.

The seven-alarm bell began ringing when Shaun Sullivan nabbed an 8-yard pass from Brilinski and flipped back to Brown who bulled the ball five more yards on the hook-and-ladder.

Devon Barley speared an 11-yard spiral from Brilinski before Harris got a step on the Oakridge secondary, pulling in a perfect lead pass from Brilinski and racing 46 yards untouched to paydirt. Evan Pohlmann's seventh PAT gave the Maroons their 49-0 lead with 57 seconds left in the half.

"Menominee was extremely fast to the edge," Oakridge coach Cary Harger said. "They're very physical up front and (Ryne Francour, middle linebacker) flows hard to the ball. The same guys who are fast on the edge were the guys closing on us on defense."

Wright, who pierced opponents for more than 1,400 passing yards this season, spent the first half running for cover against the Maroons' ferocious pass rush.

He completed just three of eight passes with two interceptions in the first half.

"Menominee is fast and physical," Wright explained. "We came out flat. I don't know why. You can't take back everything that happened in the first half."

The flash and dash of the Maroons turned to a flurry of flutters in the third quarter as Oakridge came out smoking after a loud halftime lecture.

Scott Sittser recovered a fumble at the Maroon 12 on the first play of the second half. James Abriatis rambled into the end zone on the next play.

Oakridge recovered a fumble at the 18 on the ensuing kickoff. The Maroons appeared ready to make a defensive stand when it backed Oakridge into a third-and-24 hole after Chase LaCombe tore after Wright and forced him into a grounding penalty. But the Eagles fired up their own hook-and-ladder call as Wright whistled a pass to Dom Greenawalt, who pitched back to Jerick Wambaugh for a 32-yard scoring strike with 7:52 left in the third quarter.

Three plays later, Greenawalt picked off a pass at the Maroon 27. Oakridge dipped into its playbook for a touchdown on the next play when Wright handed off to Abriatis, who pitched back to Wright. Wright launched a TD pass to wide-open Greenawalt for the touchdown, cutting the margin to 49-20 with five minutes left in the third quarter.

Oakridge continued to build momentum with a defensive stop before Aeron Forsberg put the brakes on the Eagles' third-quarter charge with a show of defensive hustle.

Wright got to the edge and was heading for the end zone when Forsberg raced him down and knocked the ball loose at the 21. Sullivan recovered the ball at the 21.

"I had a bad angle, but I knew I had to make a play," said Forsberg. "I knew I could catch him."

A 14-yard pass from Brilinski to Sullivan set up a 40-yard scoring sprint by Brilinski down the right sideline as the junior tailback shook off two tackles with jarring stiff-arms. Pohlmann's eighth PAT pushed the lead to 56-20 and kicked in the running clock again with 9:21 left in the game.

Oakridge didn't make the 71⁄2 hour drive to leave the Superior Dome without its pride and the Eagles became the first team this season to outscore the Maroons in a half when Wright lofted a 23-yard scoring pass to Greenawalt with 6:41 remaining.

"I wanted them to be proud of themselves in the second half," said Harger. "Obviously, things weren't going well for us in the first half. I wanted them to carry themselves with pride."

Pohlmann set off the chant of "U.P. Power" with 3:21 left when he drilled a 27-yard field goal.

"This feels great. This is an amazing group of guys who bought into it in the offseason," said Noha. "On cold January, February and March mornings when most people are bed, they got out there and worked out. 

"The community has given us such great support. Today, the kids paid them back by giving them a reason to celebrate."

Brilinski rushed for 127 yards on 14 carries and completed 13 of 14 passes for 131 yards; Brown bashed the Eagles for 123 yards on 15 carries and Harris had nine catches for 114 yards.

The Maroons will play Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-4) in the Division 5 state title game at Ford Field in Detroit Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CST). The Falcons blasted previously unbeaten Livonia-Clareneville 35-0.

"We're not done yet," said Francour. "We have one more game."