By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal

I’ll say it again, the West Michigan Conference football championship goes through Oakridge.

Yeah, there are the Shelby’s, Ravenna’s, Whitehall’s and Montague’s in the mix, but the title again goes through Oakridge.

The Eagles proved it again on a rainy Friday night as they rolled over the Wildcats 38-7 at Jack Schugars Field.

It was classic Oakridge – crisp blocking and tackling, swarming defense and a balanced smash-mouth rushing attack.

The Eagles (3-0) dominated the stats in total yards (261-47), rushing yards (245-minus-41), time of possession (33:29-14:31) and first downs (18-5).

Dan Shoop rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns, Francis Decker added 63 yards rushing and two TDs and Beka Shepherd supplied eight points with a 22-yard field goal and five PAT kicks.

Now, that’s a team effort.

“It was a big conference win for us,” Oakridge coach Cary Harger said. “It was our first home game and Montague came in as a big test for us. I’m glad the kids responded. They were excited to be at home.”

Tim Parker – Harger’s right-hand man and defensive coordinator – was just as excited. The Eagles allowed one 65-yard TD pass from Montague quarterback Chris Carroll to Brandon Moore in the third quarter. Take that one play away and it was a big, bad, blue battering by the Oakridge defense.

“Across the board, it was a good defensive performance,” Parker said. “We were well prepared and this is a good group that likes to learn.”

What grade would Parker give the Eagles on defense?

“A B-plus,” Parker quipped. “There’s always room for improvement.”

Oakridge took control in the first quarter on a 33-yard scoring run from Shoop and a 7-yard TD burst from Decker.

And Oakridge’s offensive line – Zach Murphy, Jacob Shepherd, Kaleb Cook, Steve Stadel, Tony Curry, Chad Lazarock and Joey Warren – started exerting itself early.

The Eagles stretched the margin to 21-0 in the second quarter on a 1-yard TD plunge by Decker.

The play that broke the Wildcats’ spirit came on a bad punt snap just before halftime that gave the ball to Oakridge at their 5-yard line.

Four plays later, Shoop plowed in from 1-yard out on the final play of the half as the Eagles went to the locker room with a 28-0 lead.

Bad punt snaps by the Wildcats led to 21 first-half points for the Eagles.

“We had a lot of mistakes and we’re still a young team,” said Montague coach Pat Collins, whose squad won its first two games by a 100-0 count. “The scores don’t mean much to us because we’re focused on ourselves.

“We had a bad game. We had a lapse. We were clicking (entering the game). Oakridge is a great team. We made mistakes and Oakridge capitalized.”

Moore, who played on a sprained ankle, is normally Montague’s punter and did not handle those duties against the Eagles. He also played quarterback, but the Eagles limited him 11 yards rushing on eight carries.

The Wildcats (2-1) also played without key senior linebacker/halfback Brandon Stine (broken elbow).

Oakridge upped its lead to 35-0 late in the third quarter on Jerick Wambaugh’s 7-yard TD run.

In the fourth quarter, Shepherd booted her first career field goal to cap the scoring at the 6:19 mark.

The WMC race has just begun and there are many key matchups left before anything gets decided.

The Eagles will be ready every week, but I still say the title goes through Oakridge.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Parker said. “You can’t take a week off in this league.”