By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
SHELBY – While the host Shelby Tigers look like the heavy favorite in their district title game versus Grandville Calvin Christian, the Squires are coming into Shelby Friday night having done something they’ve never done before.
That is, the Squires won last week their first playoff game in school history, a 14-12 victory over Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
Needless to say, Calvin Christian would just love to pick up its second playoff win over the Tigers.
Not so fast, said Shelby head coach Lorenzo Rodriguez. Instead of completing its first undefeated season in nearly 40 years, his Tigers were instead on the receiving end of a good, old fashioned whipping in the final game of the regular season, a 28-0 loss to Lakes 8 Conference winner Spring Lake. Perhaps his Tigers looked past the Lakers, or maybe they just didn’t come ready to play, said Rodriguez.
But now he said his team has learned its lesson.
“We were humbled in that Spring Lake game,” said Rodriguez. “We made a lot of mental errors, errors that killed what we were trying to do. I can tell you this, this team is not looking past (Calvin Christian). We will be ready to go.”
The Tigers are preparing a Squire offense that features several heavy hitters, including receivers Drew Zwiers and Drew Besselsen. Throwing to them is QB Austin Heeres in an offense which Rodriguez describes as fast-paced and pass-happy. The Squires are coached by second-year coach Tom Hochalter.
“They love to throw the ball,” said Rodriguez. “We’ll see a lot of bubble screens and quick hitch passes.”
David Kuiper leds the Squire ground game.
Defensively, Rodriguez said Calvin is fond of an aggressive D-stack approached, routinely utilizing blitz pressure to try to force the opponent into making bad decisions.
The Tigers have faced that defensive style before.
“We saw this exact same defense in Week 1,” said Rodriguez, referring to his team’s 21-14, season-opening win over Grant. “We’ve practiced hard to overcome it.”
The Tiger offense is led by quarterback Andy Fortier, with backs David Guerra, Devin Mussell and Forest Courtright helping on the ground, and receiver Dylan Unger and tight end Brody Lee helping through the air.
Courtright and Unger lead the defense at linebacker spots, with Graham Herin and Kevin Brink up front, and Guerra and Fortier in the defensive backfield.
The two teams shared one common opponent this season; while Shelby defeated North Muskegon 38-14, Calvin fell to the Norse 39-21.
While Calvin Christian is a novice to playoff wins, Friday marks Shelby’s sixth playoff game in two seasons. For Rodriguez, the Tigers’ long playoff run a year ago – where they made it to the state semifinals – is starting to pay off.
“Getting so deep in the playoffs is almost like having a whole other season,” said Rodriguez. “Everyone, from the starters to the young kids we move up at the start of the playoffs, gets more time to practice and get better. We have some kids on this roster who will be playing in their (seventh) playoff game. That makes a difference.”