Tigers score first 26 points of the contest to skate to 33-7 win over Wildcats

By Mark Lewis

Local Sports Journal

SHELBY – Don’t look now but in two weeks, the Shelby Tigers just might give Oakridge a run for its money.

The host Tigers staked their claim Friday night as the other ‘best’ team in the West Michigan Conference after dismantling rival Montague 33-7.

With the win, Shelby climbs to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the league, while Montague slips to 2-2 overall and 1-2 in the WMC.

For Shelby head coach Lorenzo Rodriguez, the win is just another piece of the season’s puzzle, one in which has his team is trying to improve upon last year’s 10-3 campaign a state finals appearance.

The win also avenges last year’s 22-15 loss to Montague

“It was just a chess match all night long,” said Rodriguez after the game. “Anytime you play (Montague), you’d better be on your toes because they have great schemes and they know how to make adjustments. Bottom line, we got the job done.”

It was clear right from the start that the Tigers came to play, opening the contest with an impressive 10-play, 70-yard drive that saw a healthy mix of run and pass, two third-down conversions, and a 26-yard TD pass from Andy Fortier to David Guerra to notch the game’s first score. Fortier kicked through the PAT to make it 7-0.

Montague wasn’t so fortunate, allowing two sacks of Wildcat sophomore QB Jacob Buchberger in its first three plays and forcing a punt.

The Tigers took the subsequent possession 46 yards in three plays, capped by another connection between Fortier and Guerra, this time turning a short screen place into a 26-yard score to put up the Tigers, after Fortier’s second successful PAT, 14-0.

Less than eight minutes had ticked off the clock.

“Right away we felt like we were outmatched,” said Montague head coach Pat Collins. “We had a couple sacks and those were huge and it backed us up. Once they scored the second one, our guys couldn’t find any rhythm and seemed to so down. It was hard to get them back up again. We really lost our wind. You could see it.

“We are now in a position where we have to get better or we’re going to be in trouble,” Collins added.

After forcing another Montague punt, Shelby fullback Forest Courtright capped an eight play, 59-yard drive with a 22-yard TD run less than a minute into the second quarter. The PAT snap was mishandled, but the Tigers still led 20-0.

After yet another Wildcat punt, the Tigers went up by 26 after an 11-play drive that covered 56 yards, and was finished off by a one-yard Guerra TD blast. The Tigers’ ensuing two-point conversation attempt failed.

The Wildcats got its best chance for a first-half score late in the second after a series of comical plays committed by the Tigers.

Facing fourth-and-six on its own 24, Tiger punter Devin Mussell received a high snap, and noticing he wouldn’t be able to get off the kick, instead ran left and lofted a pass to teammate Dylan Unger, which was complete at around midfield.

An illegal man down field penalty forced the Tigers to kick from their own goal line, where again the punt snap was high. Mussell bearly got it off, and the ball sailed awkwardly toward the Montague sideline, giving the Wildcats, with just 17 seconds left in the half, a first-and-10 from the Tiger 15.

Buchberger scrambled down to the six on the Wildcats’ first play, leaving just four seconds left on the clock to nab a surprise score. Alas, Buchberger’s pass in the end zone fell incomplete, maintaining Shelby’s 26-point first-half lead.

Montague’s lone score came with eight minutes left in the game, when Buchberger’s backup, senior running back Chris Carroll, capped an 81 yard, 13-play drive with a 21-yard TD strike to Wyatt Ford. Ford kicked home the PAT to make it 26-7.

“We can’t play just one half of football,” said Collins. “We’ve played four games, but we’ve really only played two games because we’ve played well in just a half of each game. We’re not sure what we’re missing or what we have to get back to. We’ll have to buy in all together and find a way for us to start better.

The Tigers didn’t look quite as potent in the second half. The Wildcats kept the hosts out of the end zone until the Tigers’ final drive of the game, when Fortier connected with Brody Lee from 16 yards away.

“We called a timeout…” said Rodriguez. “We made sure that we understood that in football, you only got nine opportunities to shine, and you’d better make the best of every opportunity. (Montague) is a quick-score offense. Their spread can take it down the field within seconds. I didn’t want our kids to get complacent and I think we did for a little bit there.”

Next week, Shelby travels to Hart to take on the 0-4 Pirates and then visits Oakridge in Week 6. Rodriguez is guarding against a letdown versus rival Hart.

“I just reminded our kids when we got together in the huddle that we cannot let the game between Montague and Oakridge be a trap game. Don’t get set up and lulled to sleep and let one slip through your fingers. Those guys up there in Hart hang their hat on beating us and they’re going to give us everything they’ve got. It’s a rivalry game and I don’t care if we’re 4-0 and they’re 0-4. It doesn’t matter. Those guys are going to come to play.”

Mussell led all rushers with 82 yards on seven carries, while Courtright added 79 yards on 17 carries for Shelby. Montague’s Carroll led the Wildcats with 70 yards on 21 carries, and also led the team with 10-for-21 passing for 85 yards, one score and one interception.

Fortier finished with 10-for-22 passing for 178 yards and three scores. The Tigers receivers were led by Guerra, who finished with 91 yards on four catches and two scores, while Lee added 58 yards on four catches and a score.

The Tigers’ defense held Montague to just 293 total yards (while the Shelby offense finished with 411), led by Courtright, who finished with a game-high 10 stops. Guerra, Mussell and Saul Salgado added eight tackles apiece in the victory.