By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
MONTAGUE – Heading into Friday night’s contest with West Michigan Conference rival Montague, Oakridge head coach Cary Harger said he was a bit concerned his team may be due for a letdown after last weekend’s emotional 31-25 victory over Grand Rapids West Catholic, the team that last year knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs.
Consider that concerned to be put to rest.
Instead of a letdown, the Eagles ran on all cylinders versus the Wildcats, scoring 41 first-half points en route to the 41-14 shellacking of Montague.
“(West Catholic) was a huge win, obviously,” said Harger after the decisive victory. “We kept telling our kids, ‘Don’t continue to bring that into this week.’ I think they learned their lesson, that they have to come in every week with a clean slate, put everything else behind them, it’s history, and that it’s time to move on.”
“After last week’s big win, we had to make sure we didn’t come in too big headed,” said senior Eagle quarterback Austin Wright, echoing Coach Harger’s thoughts, “because Montague’s a pretty good team. The seniors made sure we stayed on task throughout practice and kept our heads where they needed to be.”
After a punt to open the game, and a fumbled snap on the team’s third possession, the visiting Eagles simply dominated all facets of the game, scoring on five-straight possessions in nearly every way possible.
“An onslaught,” said Montague head coach Pat Collins, regarding Oakridge’s performance. “They just got rolling, and we made huge mistakes and they capitalized on every single one of them. Early in the game, I thought we were settled and I felt like they were unsettled. And I thought, ‘Wow, we’re going to be in pretty good shape here.”
Collins would soon learn how wrong he was.
The Eagles got on the board mid way through the first. Set up by a Jerick Wambaugh interception of sophomore Montague quarterback Jacob Buchberger, senior Eagle quarterback Austin Wright needed just one play to get into the end zone. Taking the snap, Wright, following an impressive line of Eagle blockers, scooted around the right end and then 64 yards to pay dirt to make it, after a missed extra point, 6-0.
After back-to-back turnovers by both teams, Oakridge scored on its next five possessions, making it 14-0 when senior All-State back Dan Shoop capped five play, 53-yard drive with a 14-yard TD sweep up the left side. Wright connected with Wambaugh on the two-point conversion to make it 14-0.
“I thought it was going to be a tight game,” said Harger. “Both sides I think showed a little sloppiness at the beginning, with a couple of turnovers. It just took a second for our kids to get settled in and to recognize that what they saw in practice was what they were going to see game-plan wise. It was a matter of getting them settled down and into their grove and play ball.”
“After our fumble, I just told our guys in the huddle that we needed to get our heads in the game and get focus,” said Wright.
Unfortunately for Montague, the squad never seemed to find its grove, and soon the wheels just came off of the Wildcats’ game plan. Montague was moving the ball well on its fourth drive of the half, driving down to the Eagles’ 39 when Alex VanVleet fumbled into the waiting hands of Wright, who returned it 60 yards for the score.
Wright connected with senior Dom Greenawalt from 47 yards on the third play of the second quarter to make it 28-0, and then Wright threw a 41-yard TD pass to Alex Torrenga three plays later to make it, after another missed extra point, 34-0.
Oakridge’s final score of the half came with under two minutes remaining, when Shoop capped a five play, 57-yard drive with a four-yard blast to make it 41-0.
Things went from bad to worse for the Wildcats on their final series of the half, as Buchberger reinjured his left ankle diving for the pylon on a first-and-goal rush from the four yard line. With less than three seconds remaining, reserve quarterback Chris Carroll’s errant pass attempt fell short, preserving the Eagles’ first-half shutout.
“I knew that (Oakridge) was really good,” said Collins, “and we’d need to play a really good game to win. All of a sudden, a couple key injuries really hurt us, and the wheels just came off. It was disarray, which I take full responsibility for. We had 10 guys on the field, we had a lot of issues going on tonight that shouldn’t happen but it did. So we’re just going to get back to work and try to fix it.”
Carroll got the Wildcats on the board early in the fourth, taking a keeper down the left sideline for the 25-yard score. Three minutes later, Carroll connected with VanVleet from midfield to provide the final score of the game. Carroll ran in the two-point conversion himself to provide the final result.
“From his freshman year all the way up through high school football, he’s improved tremendously. He’s a super kid who has worked his tail off. He’s a multi-sport athlete; he’s ranked second in his class. So, he’s got a lot of things on his plate, and at the same time he shows up for every single thing we ask him to show up for, he’s there the whole time. He’s just a tremendous kid. We’re lucky to have him.”
“(Wright) is a great player,” said Collins. “He’s come a long way from his junior to his senior year. When we scouted them, we were shocked at how well he looked, how good he looked from last year to this year. We were ready for him, but he really made us look bad at times.”
Instead of focusing on performance of the backs and receivers, Wright, when asked what was the key to the game, deferred to his offensive linemen.
“The O-line did great today,” said Wright. “You know, all the stuff that we do at the skill positions depends on the guys on the line. They usually get forgotten, but they are the heart and soul of the team.”
Wright finished with 126 yards passing, going 4-for-8 in the first half including two scores. Wright also rushed for 77 yards in the victory.
Before he was injured, Buchberger compiled 6-for-17 passing for 93 yards, while Carroll went 5-for-13 passing for 109 yards in relief. Carroll rushed for a team-high 70 yards on 14 carries, and Buchberger added 34 yards on 10 carries.
VanVleet led the Wildcats with six receptions for 137 yards and a score.
Cameron Braymon led the Wildcat defense with 12 tackles, and Wyatt Ford added six stops in the loss.