Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal

Oakridge showed they are going to be a tough team to knock out of the Division 5 playoffs on Friday night.

Behind a very balanced offensive attack, the Eagles knocked off Newaygo 35-14 in a district semifinal game played on Jack Schugars Field at Russell Erickson Stadium.

The win sends Oakridge into the Region 2 district championship game where they will travel to face Reed City, which beat Clare 49-7 on Friday night.

With quarterback Austin Wright leading the way, the Eagles rushed for 195 yards and passed for 147 on a rainy and soggy night.

“I think this showed we are a hard team for defenses to key on.” said Wright. “We are a team that can run and pass, which makes us hard to defend.”

Oakridge coach Cary Harger was impressed with the way Wright guided the Oakridge offense.

“I thought Austin really showed something with both his running and passing tonight,” said Harger. “He made some good throws when they were there and ran the ball hard.”

Wright finished the night 11-of-22 passing for 147 yards with a pair of TD passes and rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries.

“We know we are a rushing team, but we can also throw the ball, which we showed tonight,” Wright said.

The Eagles needed all the offense that Wright supplied to finally pull away from a tough Newaygo squad that finished its season with an 8-2 record.

The Lions scored on two big plays in the first half and went into halftime tied with Oakridge at 14-14.

The Eagles (9-1) used their own big play early in the third quarter to finally take the lead for good.

Dom Greenawalt fielded a punt at his own 34 yard line and raced untouched down the left sideline 66 yards for the tiebreaking score.

“That really was a big play from Dom,” said Harger. “We really blocked that return play well. I thought it was key for us to get the lead back early in the third quarter.”

The Lions never ventured past its own 48-yard line in the second half as the Eagles defense stiffened and Oakridge pulled away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

James Abriatis looked to be stopped for a short gain early in the final quarter, but somehow he broke from the pile and raced 28 yards to give Oakridge a 28-14 lead.

“I just get driving my legs and broke out of the pile,” said Abriatis, who lead the Eagles with 79 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Sophomore Kolin Chahorski finished the scoring for Eagles with a 6-yard run.

The game didn’t start well for the Eagles as Reo Heinzman scooped up a bad pitch from Wright and raced 15 yards to give Newaygo a 7-0 lead less than 4 minutes into the opening quarter.

“We really didn’t panic at that point,” said Harger. “We knew it was early, but it kind of opened our eyes a little.”

Oakridge responded on its ensuing drive as Wright connected with Jerick Wambaugh on a 20-yard TD pass.

The Eagles took their first lead early in the second quarter when Wright hit Greenawalt on a 3-yard scoring pass.

“We saw all night that they were covering Dom 1-on-1,” Wright said. “It was hard not to go to him as that was a good matchup for us.”

Oakridge’s 14-7 lead didn’t last long though, as the Lions needed only three plays to tie the score as Zack Knight scored on a 72-yard run.

“We knew they had some good backs with speed,” said Harger. “Other than that one big run I really thought we played well defensively throughout the game.”

Oakridge finished with a 342-219 advantage in total yards and had 35 first downs.

Wambaugh chipped in with 100 yards receiving for the Eagles and carried the ball ten times for 40 yards.

“After Dan (Shoop) got hurt a couple of games ago it was next man in and it showed tonight as it was a real team effort,” said Wright. “This win feels good, but we have bigger goals.”

Scott Sittser led the Eagles defense with eight tackles and a sack, Billy Drummond also had eight tackles and Wright intercepted a pass.

Knight rushed for 112 yards on eight carries and caught four passes for 53 yards to lead the Lions and Weston Butler was 5-of-14 passing for 51 yards.

Brandon Foster led Newaygo’s defense with 12 tackles.