By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal
REED CITY – The Oakridge football team cleared a hurdle on Friday night, and in the process, moved into the Division 5 regional finals.
Two years of disappointment were wiped away on Friday night as the Eagles moved into the regional title game with a 22-20 win over Reed City.
Oakridge had lost its previous two district title games before beating the Coyotes.
“This means alot to this coaching staff,” Oakridge coach Cary Harger said. “We wanted to get this win and after coming up short the past two seasons.”
The win advances Oakridge to the regional finals, where they will face Millington, which defeated Frankenmuth 33-29 on Friday night.
Oakridge will host Millington on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the regional championship game.
“That is great that we don’t have to get on a bus for an hour and a half,” Oakridge quarterback Austin Wright said as he jogged off the field. “It will be great to play another game on our home field.”
It was defense that propelled the Eagles into the regional title game against Millington.
Oakridge came up with four defensive stops, none bigger than its last when the Eagles stopped Reed City on a potential two-point conversion that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
Josh Saez caught a 16-yard TD pass from Chad Samuels to cut the score to 22-20 with 4:16 left, but the Oakridge defense came up big and stopped Reed City on the two-point try.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Harger said. “I was a little surprised that they did not run outside on that play, but we did a good job stopping the inside run.”
The Oakridge defense was outstanding all night long as Reed City was turned away right before halftime from the 4-yard line on the last play of the first half with the score 22-14.
Reed City drove deep into Eagles territory on its initial possession of the second half, but an Oakridge interception thwarted that drive.
The Coyotes drove inside the Oakridge 30-yard line once again in the third quarter only to be turned away again by the Eagles.
“They had a couple of quick backs who were deceptive,” Harger said. “For the most part, we kept them in check, but they did break a couple of runs.”
The Eagles looked to be in control early as they built a 15-0 lead.
James Abriatis scored on 3-yard run and Scott Sittser caught a 10-yard pass from Wright to stake the Eagles to a 15-0 first-quarter lead.
Reed City answered with Sittser’s TD on the ensuing kickoff as Paris Jones scampered 65 yards for a return touchdown.
Abriatis added a second touchdown on a 3-yard run early in the second quarter to give Oakridge a 22-6 lead.
“The line did a great job blocking tonight,” Abriatis said. “I just looked for the holes and tried to run through them.”
Joathan Green quickly responded after Abriatis’ score by bolting 92 yards for a touchdown.
At that point, it looked as if the Coyotes might tie game just before halftime, but that is when the Eagles stopped Reed City on the last play of the half at the Oakridge 4-yard line.
“That was a big stop right before the half,” Harger said. “That was just one of a few big plays our defense made.”
The Eagles will be seeking their first regional championship since 2008, the last year they won a state championship.
“This means so much,” said Abriatis clutching the district championship trophy. “We talked about how we wanted to get past the district championship game and we did that. It is a great feeling.”