By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Oakridge coach Cary Harger was eager to find out how his young team stacked up against a respected state football power like Grand Rapids West Catholic.
The verdict? The Eagles have a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to eliminating mistakes.
After playing tough for most of the first half, Oakridge eventually succumbed to a powerful West Catholic attack and four ugly turnovers.
The final score, 31-0, is not indicative of the type of football that Oakridge fans are used to seeing. Just last year the Eagles went 11-2 in the regular season and advanced to the Division 6 state semifinals.
But a lot of key players from that team graduated last spring, leaving a bunch of younger Eagles, including sophomore quarterback Brady Luttrull, to carry on the legacy.
They got off to a rough start Friday, but Harger believes the loss might prove to be valuable down the road, if his players learn from their mistakes.
“It just feels like a lot of things were left undone, with the mistakes and things not going our way,” said Harger, whose team three lost fumbles, threw one interception and had one very short punt. “There were some short fields that West Catholic had, due to mistakes on our part, and they capitalized them, like good teams do.
“I think our talent level is right with them, but unfortunately our talent is young. A lot of our guys don’t have that big game experience, and I figured they would be nervous. I think the butterflies kind of caught up to them in a few key situations.
“As I told the guys, there were too many lessons learned from this game not to go forward and not believe we will emerge a stronger team.”
The game looked like it might be close for the first 20 minutes or so.
West Catholic, the defending Division 5 state champion, took the opening kickoff and drove to the Oakridge 13, before settling for a 30-yard field goal from Travis Hoving.
The Eagles’ Jaeger Beattie picked off a West Catholic pass with five minutes left in the first quarter, and Oakridge drove to the West Catholic 34, before turning the ball over on downs.
West Catholic extended its lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter on a short drive that started at the Oakridge 41. Senior quarterback Travis Russell completed the effort with a 34-yard scoring pass to Conner Nemmers, and the extra point by Hoving was good.
The Falcons missed a 32-yard field goal with 6:32 remaining in the first half. Oakridge drove to the 50, then a great punt pinned West Catholic at its own 1-yard-line.
West Catholic faced a third down and six situation at its own six yard line, and opportunity was knocking for the Eagles. If they could have held the Falcons on the next play, they probably would have gotten the ball back in great field position.
But the Falcons got the first down, then Russell completed a 44-yard pass to Sam Neville, leaving the ball at the Oakridge nine. Russell scored from a yard out three plays later, giving West Catholic a 17-0 edge at halftime.
“That was a momentum changer,” said West Catholic coach Dan Rohn, whose team dressed 44 players, 26 of them seniors. “We were just trying to get a first down and run some time off the clock, but we got a couple big plays and an opportunity to put some points on the board.
“I think that sort of set the tone for the second half.”
Oakridge received the second half kickoff, then promptly lost a fumble at its own 23-yard line. West Catholic took advantage five plays later when Russell plunged in from two yards out, giving his team a 24-0 lead.
The Eagles shanked a punt from their own end zone on their next possession, giving West Catholic the ball at the Oakridge 16. Lasavian Majewski scored from 11 yards out on the next play, and the Falcons went up 31-0.
Oakridge had its best chance to score on its next possession, driving to the West Catholic 1-yard line with just under five minutes left in the third quarter. But a fumble on a bad snap ended the drive and gave the Falcons the ball at their own 15.
The fourth quarter was mercifully scoreless.
Kolin Chahorski led Oakridge with 10 rushes for 55 yards. Luttrull completed 7 of 14 passes for 97 yards. Billy Drummond and Beattie paced the Oakridge defense with 13 and 10 tackles, respectively, while Beattie, Nate Wahr and Brandon Ferguson each had interceptions.
Russell completed 12 of 21 passes for 194 yards for West Catholic.