By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Usually it’s the opponents of the Oakridge Eagles who must travel from far-flung places to the Eagles’ home field in order to advance in the football playoffs.
But, after notching a 10-1 record – that single loss coming at the hands of Shelby, who perfectly executed a last-second hook-and-latter play with under 30 seconds to play to stun the Eagles 22-19 – Oakridge finds itself on the road this Friday.
The Eagles head over to Reed City to take on an undefeated Coyotes team which rolled through Central States Activities Association opponents en route to a CSSA title.
According to Oakridge head coach Cary Harger, his Eagles would travel as far as necessary to keep their Div. 5 state title hopes alive.
“So of the kids were talking the other day about how going up to Reed City will be our longest road trip of the season,” said Harger. “I told them it didn’t matter if the game was on the moon; we’re still going to have to play a football game.”
While the forward pass may prove difficult in the moon’s low-gravity environment, tough line play will work as well there as it will Friday night in Reed City.
“It’s going to be a physical game,” said Harger. “(Reed City’s) line is a little bigger than us, so we’ve been emphasizing to our kids to stay low and maintain their blocks. Our offensive line is going to have its work cut out for them.”
Charged with moving the Eagles down the field will be senior quarterback Austin Wright. Wright, who can beat you with his feet and his arm, will most utilize wide outs Dom Greenawald and Alex Torrenga. Jerick Wambaugh and James Abriatis will again try to pick up the slack for Dan Shoop, who was lost to injury for the season in Week 8.
The Coyotes’ offense is powered by quarterback Chad Samuels, receiver Josh Saez, and running back Andre Jones, although backs Collin Hatfield and Josh Green will also get plenty of touches.
Reed City and Oakridge share the same 5-2 base defense, so both offenses won’t be seeing much they haven’t seen before.
Harger said the fact Reed City has yet to be beaten will have impact on how the Coyotes play.
“They really believe in what they do,” said Harger, “and they should. They’re flying high right now. They’ll come in with that feeling of invincibility.
“But we’ll have a little bit of that too,” Harger continued. “With our strong performance last week (a 35-14 win over a tough Newaygo squad in Week 1 of the playoffs) and they way our kids have looked in practice over the past two weeks, we’re feeling pretty good about where we are at. This week in practice, we’ve seen some of the best hitting of the whole season.”
Reed City Monty Price told the Cadillac News this week he has great respect for the Oakridge tradition.
“Oakridge is Oakridge,” he said. “Anyone who knows anything about high school football knows they are tradition rich. They are one of the finest teams in the state in my opinion. They are multidimensional and play a disciplined style of defense.”
Likewise, Coach Harger said beating the Coyotes is not a foregone conclusion.
“It’s going to be a battle,” he said. “The winner will need to play tough and smart. It’s going to come down to the basics, the fundamentals, toughness. It should be a really good football game.”