By Adam Knorr
Montague edged Oakridge Eagles 36-29 in overtime to capture the West Michigan Conference championship in a game that was an instant classic before it was even done.
The Wildcats, who finished 2-7 in 2014, have been proving that last season was nothing more than a bump in the road. The win on Friday night solidified Montague’s incredible turnaround season, which currently stands at 8-0 with a week left in the regular season.
“There’s so many intangibles to a championship team,” said Montague head coach Pat Collins. “It’s true, it’s not cliché to say it’s team chemistry, it’s leadership, it’s hard work and those guys epitomize all those things.”
After senior quarterback Jacob Buchberger punched in a short touchdown to give the Wildcats a seven-point lead to start overtime, the Eagles had a chance to equalize.
Oakridge quarterback Brady Luttrull fired a pass into the end zone, but Buchberger intercepted it to ice the game and send the seniors off in memorable fashion on Montague’s Senior Night.
Buchberger’s interception was his third of the game. As the quarterback for the winners, he didn’t throw a single pick.
He also had a big night offensively, going 8-for-16 for 63 yards and one touchdown through the air, and gaining another 97 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“You describe clutch, you describe Jacob,” Collins said. “He’s next to the word clutch in the dictionary. Him and the rest of the seniors, the leadership and the way they step up in those crucial moments is why we’re a championship team right now.”
For Oakridge head coach Cary Harger, the loss was a disappointment, since his team failed to defend its 2014 league title.
But his team still has a lot to look forward to in 2015.
“It’s not the end of the season,” Harger said. “We wanted the championship game. That was the championship game, we went four quarters plus. It’s going to sting. I told them to keep that in the back of their mind and that has got to be a motivator as well.”
The offensive battle was a clash between senior running backs.
Oakridge’s Kolin Chahorski and Montague’s Cameron Brayman went punch-for-punch, trading touchdowns throughout the night.
Chahorski finished with 113 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, along with one catch for a 67-yard touchdown.
Brayman rolled up 232 yards on 28 carries and scored three touchdowns, including one TD catch.
The Wildcats took an early 15-0 lead and led 15-7 at halftime.
Early in the second half, however, momentum shifted to Oakridge.
Chahorski scored a 17-yard rushing touchdown 19 seconds into the half. Oakridge recovered the ensuing kickoff, and Chahorski scored again to give the Eagles their first lead of the game at 22-15.
Buchberger scored an eight yard touchdown rush to tie the game at 22-22 late in the third quarter.
Both teams struck once in the fourth quarter.
On third-and-eight from midfield, the Eagles ran a double-reverse pass and Chahorski hit James Cooper III for a 34-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Soon after, Chahorski rushed in from short yardage for his fourth touchdown of the evening, putting Oakridge up 29-22.
The Wildcats responded when Buchberger hit Brayman for a 7-yard touchdown pass to tie things back up.
With just over two minutes left in a tie game, Oakridge drove the ball down the field and into the red zone. On third-and-goal, Luttrull floated a pass up for Cooper in the corner of the end zone.
Buchberger leaped and wrestled the ball away for an interception to keep the game tied. Soon after, the regulation clock expired, and the game went to overtime, where Buchberger came up with the key stop to bring the West Michigan Conference title back to Montague.
Luttrull completed 10 of 26 passes for 226 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions for Oakridge. Cooper hauled in seven of those completions for 163 yards.
Zack VanVleet pulled in six catches for 53 yards for the Wildcats.