Mitchell Boatman

WHITEHALL – There are good games, then there was Friday night’s contest between Montague and Whitehall.

This year marked the 111th Battle for the Bell, and it may go down as one of the best.

Montague rolled into Whitehall and built a big halftime lead, then held off a furious Viking comeback to win 46-44 and claim its third straight victory in the rivalry.

The game, played in front of a huge White Lake crowd, was a classic nail-biter in the fourth quarter.

Whitehall scored a pair of touchdowns to bring the score to 40-38 late in the game. Montague then scored with 6:26 remaining on a pass from quarterback Sebastian Archer to Bryce Stark.

The kick was blocked, leaving Montague with an eight-point lead, but the door still open for Whitehall.

Bryce Stark breaks free on the Montague run. Photo/Tim Reilly

Facing a fourth-and-seven at the Montague 44, the Vikings desperately needed a first down. but instead went for the touchdown.

Quarterback Justin Brown found Tylor Russell deep downfield for a 44-yard scoring strike to pull the Vikings within two points, 46-44, with 3:54 left

On the potential game-tying conversion, Brown scrambled to find an open target, but the pocket broke down and he was taken down at the five-yard-line, allowing the Wildcats to maintain their slim lead.

Whitehall got the ball back with about 1:30 left, but threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage. The Wildcats ran the clock down after that and escaped with the thrilling victory.

Montague was paced by running back Bryce Stark’s four touchdowns.

Stark says the game ranks as the best he’s played in.

“This was by far the most crazy game I’ve played in,” said Stark. “There were so many times where I thought the momentum was here, then it was there. I’ve never experienced that in a game before.”

Whitehall QB No. 5 Justin Brown makes the pass. Photo/Tim Reilly

Montague coach Pat Collins admired his team’s resilience after the game.

“It proves a lot about our kids,” the coach said. “When you put in that much time and effort and you get in those situations, you dig down. I thought our kids did that. They’re hard workers and it paid off.”

The implications of this game will certainly be felt later in the season. Both teams entered the night unbeaten in the West Michigan Conference. Montague is now 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the conference, and sits alone atop the league standings.

Whitehall fell to 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference.

“This was a big step for us,” Stark said. “First thing on our checklist is to win the conference. Second is to win state. That’s all there is to it.”

Montague wasted no time getting on the scoreboard when Stark took the first play from scrimmage 68 yards for a touchdown.

Whitehall tied the game at 7-7 on a 1-yard dive from Josh Thommen. The Wildcats answered with a touchdown pass from Archer to Jacob Jancek for a 39-yard touchdown and led 14-7 after one quarter.

Stark found the end zone twice in the second quarter, on runs of 18 yards and four yards, to put Montague up 27-7.

Whitehall’s No. 72 Brandon Rake tires to get a hand in the face of Montague quarterback No. 23 Sebastian Archer. Photo/Tim Reilly

“My line blocks like no other for me,” Stark said. “If I get in the open, I’ll do what I do best.”

Whitehall scored on an 8-yard scamper by Terrell Harris, only to see Montague answer with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Archer to Kenyan Johnston.

Collin Mahan kicked a field goal for the Vikings as time expired in the first half. leaving Montague with a seemingly commanding 33-17 lead.

But Whitehall wasn’t done.

Brown scored the lone touchdown in the third quarter on a 60-yard sprint, then Russell pounded in the two-point attempt to make it 33-25 heading to the fourth quarter.

That’s where the fun began. Each of the first three plays resulted in touchdowns.

“Some weird plays happened,” Collins said. “Both teams just kept coming at each other.”

Brown dove in for a 1-yard score to make it 33-31. Archer found Johnston for an 80-yard Montague touchdown, making it 40-31. Harris then went 60 yards for Whitehall to pull the Vikings within two points at 40-38.

That led to the late dramatics that left Montague with the narrow victory.

Stark ran for 127 yards and three scores on 17 carries, while also catching a touchdown pass. Archer was 14-for-20 through the air for 217 yards and four scores, and intercepted a pass on defense. Johnston had nine grabs for 129 yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats.

Brown was 7-for-15 through the air for 82 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also carried 15 times for 124 yards and two scores. Harris had six rushes for 76 yards, three receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns for Whitehall.