Surging Oakridge ready to test itself against Swan Valley in football regionals

By Dave Hart and Andrew Johnson
LocalSportsJournal.com

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – The young Oakridge football squad has grown and improved as the season has progressed.

But have the Eagles grown enough to continue its run through the Division 5 state playoffs?

Their fans will find out on Saturday, when Oakridge visits 10-1 Saginaw Swan Valley at 1:30 p.m. in the regional finals.

The winner will advance to the state semifinals.

The Eagles have had a good season, as they always do. They posted a 7-2 regular season record and qualified for the state playoffs for the 13th straight season.

But they have a young squad this season, and it showed during West Michigan Conference losses to Whitehall (28-14) and undefeated Montague (40-0).

But Oakridge has rebounded since then, posting a 71-0 win over Hart in Week 8 and a 34-7 victory over playoff-bound Berrien Springs in the regular season finale.

Blake Masterman rushes up the middle for Oakridge against Grant. Photo/Mitchell Dixon

The success continued in the first two weeks of the playoffs with victories over North Muskegon and Grant, both by 38-7 scores.

Now the Eagles will face Swan Valley, with a chance to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2013.

“We have grown tremendously, mostly from a mental aspect,” said Oakridge coach Cary Harger, whose team only has a handful of seniors this season.

“During the Whitehall loss we had an injury (to senior standout Alex Shoop), and the guys spent too much time wondering what they were going to do to respond after that.

“Then we made a lot of mental miscues in the Montague game that seemed to snowball, and it just got out of hand.

“From that point on we decided that we were going to pressure the kids more at practice and put them in different situations and demand more out of them. That has been the secret of our latest success.”

The Eagles will certainly be tested on Saturday against Swan Valley, which is 10-1 and champion of the Tri-Valley Conference Central Division.

Oakridge QB Koleman Wall fights off a defender earlier this season. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Vikings are on a 10-game winning streak after opening the season with a loss against Zeeland East.

They average 39 points per game and hurt opponents on the ground (222 yards per game) and through the air (109 yards per game).

The Vikings are led by senior running back Emmett Boehler, who has 1,350 yards on 209 carries and 14 touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Alex Fries has completed 56 of 141 passes for 1,121 yards, including 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Swan Valley’s leading receivers are Terryon Liddell (463 yards on 20 catches with five touchdowns) and Ethan Champney (332 yards on 12 receptions with three touchdowns).

The Vikings, who have made the playoffs every season since 2012 and nine of the past 10 years, advanced to regionals by beating Bridgeport 59-22 in pre-districts and Carrollton 42-7 in the district finals.

“They are a very good team, the best we have faced this year in the postseason,” Harger said. “They are very physical, and we have to match and exceed their physicality. We feel we match up well.”

The Eagles are led by their potent three-back attack of junior Leroy Quinn (1,296 yards, 16 touchdowns), senior Alex Shoop (747 yards, 14 touchdowns) and junior Blake Masterman (727 yards, 14 touchdowns).

Oakridge quarterback Koleman Wall has thrown for 587 yards on 32-for-65 passing with 11 touchdowns. Masterman has 167 receiving yards on eight catches for the Eagles while Jalen Hughes has caught a team-high 10 passes for 111 yards.

Oakridge has outscored its opponents this year by a 414-140 margin. They have scored more points than any Eagle squad since 2013.

Despite their youth, the Eagles are trying to win their first state championship since 2008.

“From playing here, coaching with (legendary head coach) Jack Schugars, and then taking over from the program, we did not want to let this program falter,” Harger said.

“This is a huge goal for this program, year in and year out, and we wanted to make sure that remained a goal.”

 

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