By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

Some might say that Friday’s Orchard View-Fruitport game is less than a big deal, because neither team is leading the Lakes 8 Conference.

But the Cardinals and Trojans see it quite differently. Each team has a lot riding on this contest.Shoreline football instory art

Both are 2-1 in the conference, along with Spring Lake. They trail Muskegon Catholic by one game heading into the last two weeks of conference play.

Catholic has been the bully of the conference thus far, blowing out Ludington, Spring Lake and Fruitport by huge margins.

But Orchard View has yet to play Muskegon Catholic – that game is a week from Friday. If the Cardinals can get past Fruitport this week, that game would be a showdown, with Orchard View playing for a share of the league title.

But beyond the conference race, the Fruitport game is important for Orchard View from a postseason perspective. The Cardinals haven’t made the state playoffs since 2008 and are itching to get back in.

Fruitport's Nathan Kriger rushes past Fremont's Brandon Harris on September 12. Photo/Jason Goorman

Fruitport’s Nathan Kriger rushes past Fremont’s Brandon Harris on September 12. Photo/Jason Goorman

Orchard View is currently 4-1 and needs two wins to clinch a berth. Every victory will be precious for the Cardinals with Muskegon Catholic (next week), Muskegon Heights (Week 8) and powerful Oakridge (Week 9) still on the schedule.

Orchard View has beaten Montague, Manistee, Fremont and Ludington, and lost to Spring Lake.

“To be honest (a conference title) has never been a goal of ours,” said Orchard View Coach Joe Tanis, whose team has rebounded remarkably from a 2-7 record last season. “At the end of the day everyone is chasing a state championship. Our goal is to be playing our best ball at the end of the season, so we can get in the dance and see how things go.

“Our focus is always one week at a time. (Fruitport) put up 69 points on us last season. That kind of sticks out for us a bit.”

Friday’s game is even more crucial for Fruitport.

While the Trojans are still playing for conference honors, their immediate concern is remaining in playoff contention.

Fruitport is 2-3 overall, which means one more loss would put the magic playoff number of six wins out of reach.

A few teams sneak into the playoffs with five wins, but the Trojans know better than to count on that. They can guarantee their playoff ticket by running the table, starting with Orchard View on Friday, followed by Spring Lake, Saint Johns and DeWitt.

“We can’t have a letdown,” said Fruitport Coach Greg Vargas, whose team missed the playoffs last year after qualifying in 2012. “Every week is playoff week. The kids will have to come out and be ready to roll.”

Fruitport was on a roll prior to last Friday’s 56-7 loss to MCC.

Mike Parker breaks through the end zone on a 2-point conversion in OV's win over Montague. Photo/Jason Goorman

Mike Parker breaks through the end zone on a 2-point conversion in OV’s win over Montague. Photo/Jason Goorman

After losing their first two games to Grand Haven and Mona Shores, the Trojans ripped off impressive conference wins against Fremont (54-14) and Ludington (28-6).

Vargas thinks his team can return to form, despite the devastating loss last weekend.

“We have a next play type of mentality,” Vargas said. “That stuff (against MCC) is done. We’ve tried to emphasize that for the players this week. We can’t do anything about that, but we can make those future plays.”

Recent history will be on Fruitport’s side Friday. The Trojans have won four straight games against Orchard View, and the last two weren’t very close (69-27 last year, 32-8 in 2012).

Vargas admits that fact has been mentioned at practice, but he doesn’t put much stock in it.

“That’s a brand new Orchard View team,” he said. “We talked about the history a little bit, but we’re focused on what Orchard View does well so we can counteract it.”

Tanis doesn’t believe Fruitport’s recent domination will make any difference, but he does believe the Trojans are still a very formidable and dangerous team.

“I wouldn’t say they have a mental edge, but they’re going to be fired up and ready to go,” Tanis said. “Their backs are against the wall. I know Coach Vargas is motivating those guys. It’s the same good Fruitport team it’s been the last four years.”