By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal
Oakridge football coach Cary Harger was nearly done addressing his team on Saturday when he pointed to the side of the Oakridge locker room building.
On the side of the building is a list of all the Oakridge teams that have won
Harger told his team, “You have added your name to that list up there. You are only the seventh team in Oakridge history to win a regional championship.”
The 2013 Eagles earned their own bit of football history by rolling past Millington 31-12 in the Division 5 regional title game played at Jack Schugars Field at Russell A. Erickson Stadium.
The win will most likely send the Eagles to the Upper Peninsula and the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday where they will face Menominee, which beat Standish-Sterling 49-27.
“This means so much,” Oakridge running back James Abriatis said. “To become only the seventh team to win a regional championship and have our year up there is a great feeling.”
As was the case in playoff wins over Newaygo and Reed City, the Oakridge defense once again shined on Saturday.
The Eagles limited Millington to 262 total yards and a pair of scores, one which came on the last play of the game.
“They really studied some film on us,” said Harger. “They tried to test our linebackers in the first half with some counter action early and they wanted see what we had up front and establish the power game. Our defense was having none of the power game.”
As good as Oakridge’s defense was against the Cardinals, it was a special teams’ play that really changed the momentum of the game.
With less than a minute left in the half and Oakridge nursing a 10-6 lead, the Eagles were forced to punt and the ball was downed on Millington’s 1-yard line.
The Cardinals (9-3) ran a quarterback sneak, fumbled the ball and Oakridge’s Scott Sittser recovered on Millington’s 3-yard line.
Oakridge (11-1) ran two plays and failed to get into the end zone, but with time ticking down and with no timeouts quarterback Austin Wright calmly set the
offense and handed the ball to Jerick Wambaugh who scored from two yards out to give Oakridge a 17-6 halftime lead.
“That probably was the play of the game right there,” said Harger. “We really could have been disappointed going into halftime if we had not scored. Austin did a great job setting the offense and running the play instead of spiking the ball.”
Once again Wright was outstanding in guiding the Oakridge offense.
The senior completed 7-of-14 passes for 123 yards and he rushed 18 times for 145 yards.
“They did some things on defense we hadn’t seen on film,” said Wright. “I tried not to force things and tried to get out of bounds and not get hit.”
Wright capped Oakridge’s initial scoring drive in the opening quarter as he scampered 14 yards for a touchdown.
Millington answered early in the second quarter as Maxon Chase scored from three yards out, but the Cardinals missed the extra point.
Brad Cook added a 25-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 10-6 lead on their ensuing drive and that looked as if it would be the halftime score.
Neither team managed much offense in the third quarter before the Eagles put the game away with a pair of touchdown passes from Wright in the final quarter.
Wright found Alex Torrenga on a 10-yard pass in the corner of the end zone and then he lofted a nice 46-yard TD pass to Dom Greenawalt.
“They put some pressure on us at times,” Wright said. “For the most part I tried not to force things and make some plays.”
When Wright was not using his arm or feet to hurt the Cardinals it was Abriatis.
The senior tailback rushed 18 times for 145 yards.
“Once again the offensive line did a great job opening holes for me today,” said Abriatis. “I also thought our defense, which is very underrated did another great job for us today.”
That defense was led by Sittser’s 14 tackles and 11 stops from Kaleb Cook.
Terrance Summerville added seven tackles and an interception for the Eagles.
This will be Oakridge’s first trip to the state semifinals since 2008 when it won a state championship.
It will also be the first trip to the Upper Peninsula since 2005 when they beat Menominee 39-29 in the semifinals.
“Some of our coaching staff has been up there before,” said Harger. “I know I was a little bit in awe when I walked into the Superior Dome the first time. I am sure some of the kids will be the same way. We will be ready though. We will get up there and get a practice in and we will be ready for next Saturday.”