By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
GRAND RAPIDS – Sure there were tears and feelings of disappointment after Newaygo’s magical season came to an end Friday night at Grand Rapids West Catholic.
But Lions’ coach Andy Busch admitted after a 21-7 Division 5 regional championship loss to the Falcons there’s a new swagger in Newaygo after years of losing seasons and low expectations.
“The bar is higher,” Busch said after hugging many players in an emotional post-game gathering. “We have a young team. I’m excited about next year. I think we can do great things next year. But we have to get stronger.”
The Falcons (9-3) flexed their size and muscles to advance to the state semifinals for the third straight season. GRWC, which captured the 2010 state title, will face the winner of Saturday’s Menominee-Clare regional game in next week’s state semifinals.
The Lions (9-3) battled from start to finish, but the Falcons proved too tough, especially on defense. Newaygo totaled 215 yards and produced just one big play –Heath Harrington’s 68-yard TD run in the second quarter.
“They are huge,” Bush said of the Falcons. “They are strong and physical kids. We knew they were tough between the tackles. That is our offense and where we try to run.”
GRWC won the statistical battle in total yards (376-215) and first downs (20-8) and relied on the power running of Andy Corey, who carried 35 times for 234 yards and a touchdown.
Corey opened the scoring with a 44-yard TD run in the first quarter.
GRWC coach Dan Rohn, an Orchard View graduate and former head coach at Fremont, knew his team would be challenged from start to finish by the Lions.
“I said all week they are one of the scrappiest football teams we’ve faced,” said Rohn, whose team led 14-7 at halftime and added an insurance score in the fourth quarter. “They will battle with anybody. (Bush) does a good job. They will be around for awhile.”
Newaygo’s biggest play came on Harrington’s TD run at the 6:14 mark of the second quarter that tied the game at 7-7.
But the Falcons answered with a long drive, capped by a 2-yard TD pass from Travis Russell to Drake Wooten to gain the halftime advantage.
“I never felt comfortable at halftime,” Rohn said. “I said we needed to get another (TD) and get up by two.”
GRWC won the field position battle in the second half and put the game away on a 3-yard TD pass from Russell to David Kuzma in the back of the end zone with 5:07 remaining.
Russell completed 11-of-28 passes for 106 yards and two TDs.
The Lions were led by Harrington with 12 carries for 94 yards. Quarterback Weston Butler completed 4-of-16 passes for 44 yards and one interception.
Newaygo also played most of the game without Max Harrington, who injured a shoulder on a punt return late in the first quarter.
“That’s half our offense and half our defense,” Busch said about the key loss of Harrington. “He’s one of the key playmakers on our team.”
Newaygo’s most successful season came to an end and the large following of fans gave the Lions a standing ovation.
Seniors, who endured frustrating times earlier in their careers, stood toe-to-toe with the state power Falcons for 48 minutes.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” Busch said. “They scrapped and fought the whole season and came so far.”
Added Rohn: “The Newaygo community should be extremely proud of their players.”