By Adam Knorr
The two White Lake schools have a passionate neighborhood rivalry dating back decades.
That’s because both teams are very good and remain in the hunt for the West Michigan Conference championship and a berth and high seed in the state playoffs.
This will be the first time since 2011 that the two teams have met with winning records.
Montague has had the more successful program in recent years, posting 13 straight winning seasons between 2001 and 2013. Whitehall has had seven winning seasons since 2000.
The Wildcats have also dominated the rivalry with the Vikings, winning seven straight between 2007 and 2013, and posting a 12-3 record since 2000.
Their roles reversed last season when Whitehall beat Montague 48-20 en route to a 7-2 regular season. Montague saw its long streak of winning seasons come to an end with only two victories in 2014.
But this year Montague has rebounded with a 4-0 record to start the season, and none of its games have been close. The Wildcats have beaten Orchard View (35-13), Ravenna (70-48), Shelby (55-23) and Mason County Central (48-28).
Meanwhile, Whitehall has maintained its winning pace with a 3-1 record. The Vikings downed Kelloggsville (41-0), North Muskegon (54-13) and Mason County Central (41-14), before losing last week to undefeated Traverse City Central 28-21.
Montague is 3-0 in the tough West Michigan Conference while Whitehall is 2-0. A single loss could prevent either team from competing for the title in the super competitive league.
All of that aside, however, and it still comes down to the Wildcats versus the Vikings for annual bragging rights. Both teams could be winless and that would still be the case.
“I was a player at Montague so I grew up here playing the rivalry game,” said Montague head Coach Pat Collins. “I have the blessing to coach in it for the 12th year. It’s such a strong rivalry and we have a lot of friendships throughout the area.
“There are a lot of people that I graduated with that live in Whitehall and vice versa. It’s all one big area.”
Yet Whitehall Coach Tony Sigmon admits it’s extra fun to play the game with both teams having winning seasons.
“This is the first time since I’ve been at Whitehall as a head coach where the schools have met and both have been this good or exceeded expectations,” Sigmon said.
“This game is really a celebration of high school football for the entire community. I think it’s great for the community.”
If the first four weeks of the season are any indication, the game should be a high-scoring affair. That’s because both teams have powerful offensive weapons that opponents have been unable to contain.
Whitehall’s attack revolves around senior quarterback Zarren Aylor, a three-year starter who is a deadly threat through the air and on the ground.
Aylor has thrown 11 touchdown passes this season and ran for seven. A good example of the kind of damage he can do came against North Muskegon, when he threw touchdown passes of 84 and 83 yards to his brother Keenan Aylor, threw a 54-yard scoring strike to Nolan Throne, and ran for scores of 14, 1 and 2 yards.
“They’re a very talented team. Any time you play that team it’s a tough game,” Collins said of Whitehall. “You really can’t make a lot of mistakes. You have to be really sound in what you do, but if you get in a position where you make mistakes they can make you pay for it.”
Montague specializes in whipping teams on the ground. The Wildcat attack starts with senior quarterback Jacob Buchberger, who has rushed for 660 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His best game was against Ravenna, when he rushed for 254 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior running back Cameron Brayman has also stood out for Montague, amassing 725 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games.
His best game was against Shelby, when he piled up an incredible 312 yards and scored twice.
“When (Brayman) gets a full head of steam he’s moving hard and fast and he’s a tough kid to tackle,” Sigmon said. “A big part is getting him stopped behind the line of scrimmage. If we don’t do that he’s going to have a great night on us on Friday.”