What does it mean to witness a great game?
Usually, it is a match up between two evenly matched squads, and most of the time there is something important on the line, like a playoff berth or a conference title or a state championship.
Typically, it is filled with a great performance or two and often features average players performing above their usual levels.
And nearly always, the outcome is in doubt until the last series, play or until the clock expires.
As part of the Local Sports Journal’s summer coverage, we are asking our incredible stable of sports writers to think back across their careers, across their lives, to recall the very best games they’ve ever seen.
To kick off the series, I’m going to feature a few of the best local high school football games I’ve been lucky enough to see.
Because the majority of my writing career has been spent covering northern Muskegon County and Oceana County, my examples tip toward games in the West Michigan Conference.
Of course, Montague has had its share of classics, especially since the school hired in the early aughts one of its former star quarterbacks, Pat Collins, to take over the program.
The Wildcats seem to play in big games the majority of its regular season, but it is in their annual match up versus Oakridge which always seem to be for the conference title. It’s a league consider to be the premier small-school conference in the state, that standout from the rest.
There have been several I have witnessed with my own eyes, like the Wildcats’ 28-21 loss to the Eagles in 2008. Though they went on that year to win the first of back-to-back state crowns, the Wildcats wanted so bad to beat their rival, many of the Montague players had tears streaming down their faces by game’s end.
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
“After both teams had played their guts out across 47 minutes of football, it all came down to one play, just one moment. Montague’s Dustin DeHoff, who had done his share of running around, over and through defenders — as well as seeing some time at quarterback — and Oakridge defender Luke Cole, playing with cast-wrapped broken wrist, hung in the air for what seemed like forever, each scratching and clawing for possession of the ball as they fell in a heap in the Oakridge’s end zone.
And when that moment was over, the Oakridge Eagles, the top-rated Division 5 team in the state had pulled out another heart-tearing victory versus Montague, the second-ranked team in Division 6.”
Certainly, it was a great finish to a great game, but most of those cheering that fall evening for Montague still feel Dehoff come down with possession, for what would have been the tying score.
But the two schools played an even better contest just last season.
Montague pretty much controlled the game, and held onto what seemed to be an air tight 10-point lead. Then, despite playing poorly the previous 40 minutes, Oakridge suddenly snapped back to life.
After cutting the lead to seven on a chip-shot field goal, and holding the Wildcats to a three-and-out, Oakridge, with just 2:26 left in the game, went to work.
Here’s what I wrote:
“Eagles’ QB Patrick Giddings executed a nearly flawless two-minute drill drive, passing into the flats so his receivers could get out of bounds and stop the clock and keeping it himself when the opportunity presented itself.
On the eighth play of the drive, the Eagles drove down to the Wildcats’ four, and would need all four tries from that spot to get the TD. After losing a yard on first-and-goal, the Eagles watched three pass incompletions and were facing a fourth-and-goal. With Montague’s ears peeled back, the rush seemed to collapse around Giddings, who high-tailed it up the middle for the score.
There was 8.4 seconds left on the clock.
Then controversy reared its head on the ensuing play.
Oakridge ran its kicking team out on the field for what looked to be the game-tying extra point. At the last minute, though, and with Montague unleashing an all-out blitz, Giddings lofted a soft pass to tight end Joey Warren for the go-ahead two-point conversion.
Of course, Coach Pat Collins smelled something fishy right from the start, and frantically gestured in the direction of the officials that he wanted a time out called.
The officials failed to heed Collins’ request.”
Really, it really wasn’t all that hard to explain. The Wildcats, clearly the more talented team, book ended spectacular plays with turnovers and missed opportunities, while the Eagles just refused to go away.
In 2003, Whitehall stunned Coopersville to win the Division 5, Region 1 District 2 championship, in what I figure was the best playoff comeback win I ever witnessed.
Unable to get much offense going for most of the game, and trailing 7-3 in the contest’s waning minutes, Whitehall suddenly looked like liked the stuff of legends.
Here was my take:
“With only 2:16 remaining on the clock, Whitehall began its game-winning drive to its own 45 yard line, but faced plenty of obstacles along the way. The first was a must-have fourth-and-eight, when (QB Pat) Welsh hit Mike Kelley for the first down. The next was a third-and-six on the Broncos’ 46 yard line, when Welsh threw a 22-yard jump ball to slot end Craig Brown, who timed his jump perfectly to make the critical catch, keeping the drive moving.
And finally, there was the play of the game. With only four seconds remaining and 15 yards from the winning score, Welsh threw to Brown again on fourth down. Brown, who is a junior transfer student from Virginia, simply beat the defender by one step and the pass fell into his hands.
“Craig had two huge catches on that final drive,” said Malbouef. “We wouldn’t have won this game without him.”
“Before the game,” said an elated senior quarterback Pat Welsh, “my dad joked that I might have to go on a Joe Montana drive to win the game. And on our last drive, I just tried to play like him.”
Muskegon Catholic Central
While the previous three examples were games I covered, the best high school football game I ever saw was from the field.
In what many still call the “greatest game ever”, I was fortunate enough to play in Muskegon Catholic’s four-overtime playoff 34-33 victory against Ravenna, on Nov. 19, 1990.
It was a real doozy.
Here’s what I wrote about the game in Jay VandeVoorde and Drew Payment’s outstanding book on Muskegon football history, A Football Factory:
“I remember walking onto opposing fields, especially at Ravenna in the playoffs, feeling like we were villains in a professional wrestling match. We were mean and nasty, and that certainly helped in the intimidation department.”
From what I remember, the Ravenna fans were no angels, taunting us as we ran past them on pregame passing drills.
So the stage was set for a classic, and that’s what both teams delivered. It was exhausting, the drama unfolding with each play, and it was only until Jason Tester blocked Ravenna’s game-tying extra point that would have sent the contest into its fifth overtime that we could finally relax.
Relief was not the word for what we felt after Tester’s block.
From there, we went on to win two-straight state titles, but it was that win in Ravenna that set any subsequent success into unstoppable motion.
What’s the best football game you ever witnessed? Comment on the LSJ’s page or write up your best game memories and post a story on our Facebook page. The best stories may be selected to run on the LocalSportsJournal.com Web site.
We all look forward to reliving your memories of the greatest football games in Muskegon sports history.
In the mean time, check out these video highlights from the 2009 matup of Oakridge vs. Montague.