By Nate Thompson
But quarterback Brady Luttrull, an inspired defense and a skilled placekicker propelled the Eagles to amazing 31-28 comeback victory in front of a huge and excited home crowd.
Luttrull helped the home team soar back with a one-yard touchdown sneak with 4:16 left, and later with a dazzling 70-yard scoring burst.
Kicker Greg Garcia completed the rally with a 21-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining.
With the win, the Eagles finished the West Michigan Conference season with a 7-0 record (7-1 overall) and the league trophy. Montague, the 2015 conference champion, dropped to 5-2 in the conference and 6-2 overall.
It was an exhilarating comeback for Oakridge, which appeared to be on its last breath in the final minutes of the third quarter after Luttrull lost a fumble on a keeper up the middle.
The ball sailed into the air, was kicked around on the turf, and was eventually scooped up by Montague’s Dylan Stark, who returned it 75 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
“I was so mad at myself because I knew I couldn’t turn the ball over, not in a big game like this,” said Luttrull, who ran 27 times for 150 yards.
Even after the turnover, Luttrull said he refused to let doubt sink in about his team’s chances.
“There was no doubt (we could come back),” he said. “I told my team we were going to come back and win.”
A big key for the Eagles’ comeback was keeping Montague quarterback Dylan Stever and his dangerous cast of wide receivers under wraps in the second half.
After throwing for more than 160 yards in the first half, Stever managed just 73 the rest of the way.
The Oakridge defense also held Montague to a pair of crucial three-and-out drives in the fourth quarter.
“It was a game full of big shifts, but we just couldn’t get that last shift to go our way,” said Montague coach Pat Collins. “For whatever reason, we really struggled with ball movement after the third quarter.
“Really, it came down to penalties. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many penalties in a game before. We have to get back to work and start teaching the game or something.”
Montague attempted a last-minute comeback following the Eagle rally. Stever completed a pair of passes to Jake Jancek, but his hail mary attempt with one second left was knocked down in the end zone by the Eagles’ Marcus Stewart, ending the wild rivalry showdown.
Oakridge dominated time of possession early, running 18 plays to the Wildcats’ 7 in the first quarter. The Eagles took a 7-0 lead on a touchdown run by Garcia on the opening drive.
The Eagles pushed it to 14-0 early in the second quarter on sophomore Blake Masterman’s 10-yard score, but any thoughts of an early blowout were quickly extinguished by Montague.
The Wildcats reeled off 28 unanswered points, including three touchdowns in their huge second quarter.
A Stover-to-Jancek connection of 35 yards got Montague on the board, and on the Eagles’ next series, Luttrull was picked off by Wildcats’ sophomore Sebastian Archer.
It took Montague just one play after the pick to tie the game, with Stark blazing 31 yards into the end zone.
Montague took its first lead, 21-14, when Stever hit Kenyon Johnston with a 48-yard TD connection over the middle, stunning a standing-room-only crowd.
Both offenses bogged down in a third quarter full of penalties, and Oakridge remained in neutral on offense early in the fourth, especially after Stark’s huge fumble return gave the Wildcats a 28-14 lead.
But Luttrull, like he has done so often this season, provided a spark when it mattered most. He said there was a precise motivation that carried him.
“Losing to Montague last year, I never wanted to have that feeling again,” he said of the 36-29 overtime loss that gave the Wildcats the league title. “That was in the back of my mind the entire game. I wanted to get redemption.
“We just stuck to the game plan and trusted our coaches. The coaches have complete trust in us, we have all the confidence in the world in our coaches, and we trust ourselves to go out and execute.”
Sophomore Blake Masterman totaled 111 rushing yards on 21 carries for Oakridge. Alex Shoop had six catches for 104 yards for the Eagles.