By Mitchell Boatman
As always, LocalSportsJournal.com will have reports on each game involving area teams, with seven contests on Thursday, 10 on Friday and a single game on Saturday.
To start the season, LSJ is looking at three “Spotlight Games,” one on each day.
Defending Division 3 state champion Muskegon will take on defending Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle on Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, Mona Shores faces off against East Kentwood at Grand Valley State University. A Thursday highlight will be the annual opener between Reeths-Puffer and Grand Haven.
LSJ will also have reporters and photographers covering the Orchard View at Spring Lake and Hesperia at North Muskegon games this weekend.
Warren De La Salle at Muskegon, Friday, 7 p.m.
The Big Reds finally broke through with a state championship last season after years of close calls. Don’t assume coach Shane Fairfield and his squad are satisfied, though. Muskegon is now seeking its first back-to-back titles in school history.
The Pilots of De La Salle are also coming off a state title and could present Muskegon with a tough challenge, something the Big Reds didn’t get much last season.
These two schools have met just twice before, but the stakes have always been high. Both previous meetings came with a state championship on the line, and the Big Reds came out on top in both 2006 and 2008.
While a state honors certainly aren’t up for grabs in Week 1, there will be playoff implications. Both teams face tough schedules, and while a loss wouldn’t end their playoff hopes, a win will go a long way when it comes to playoff seeding, assuming both teams get there.
Outside of some tough non-conference opponents on the schedule this year, Muskegon’s biggest hurdle might be replacing standout quarterback La’darius Jefferson, who is now at Michigan State University.
Despite losing a quarterback to a Division 1 college two years in a row, the cupboard is not bare for the Big Reds. Junior Cameron Martinez, a state champion at Muskegon Catholic as a freshman, is expected to start under center.
Muskegon will have a lot of new weapons in the backfield and receiving corps, but returns most of its offensive line, which may be the team’s biggest strength. Four starters return up front, led by LSU commit Anthony Bradford. The line should open plenty of holes for whoever gets the ball in the Muskegon offense.
Mona Shores vs East Kentwood, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Last season the Sailors opened with a showdown against Canton at the Big House in Ann Arbor. This year, they are going big again, but a little closer to home.
Mona Shores will take on the Falcons at GVSU’s Lubbers Stadium in Allendale. This will be the schools’ first meeting since 2002, but it used to be an annual affair.
Mona Shores and East Kentwood competed in the O-K Red Conference for 18 years, from 1985-2002. The results weren’t pretty for the Sailors. The Falcons won 14 of the 18 meetings, with Mona Shores’ last win coming in 1999, before the players on the current roster were even born.
The programs appear to be heading in different directions, however. Mona Shores had a brilliant 2017 season, going 9-2, while East Kentwood missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The Sailors lost some key players from last year, but return eight starters on a defense that allowed just 15.6 points per game. The unit is led by Western Michigan University commit Jacob Wahlberg at linebacker.
Mona Shores will have a new quarterback in junior Caden Broersma, but returns leading rusher Sincere Dent to help carry the load.
Despite the recent mediocre seasons, East Kentwood has one of the largest student enrollment totals in the state – more than double that of Mona Shores – which means the Falcons have a large pool of potential athletes. This is a team that should never be counted out.
Grand Haven at Reeths-Puffer, Thursday, 7 p.m.
For the third consecutive season, the Buccaneers and Rockets will face off to open the season. With both teams playing in tough conferences, non-conference wins are essential in their bids to make the playoffs, something neither team has done in quite a while.
The Rockets last qualified for the postseason in 2013, while Grand Haven hasn’t been there since 2011.
Reeths-Puffer just missed out in 2017, dropping its final game 26-22 and finishing with five wins, one short of the playoff minimum. Grand Haven, on the other hand, struggled all year and finished 1-8.
The Rockets return seven starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Evan Mowska and four offensive linemen.
The Buccaneers are hitting the reset button, with only three of 22 starters returning from last season. There is hope for a turnaround as numbers in the program are rising. Only time will tell how quickly things start to click for Grand Haven.
This matchup has been very competitive in recent years. Grand Haven and Reeths-Puffer have locked horns each of the past four seasons. The Buccaneers took the first three, but the Rockets broke through with a 28-10 win to open 2017.
The 18-point win is the largest margin of victory since the schools began playing again in 2015. Grand Haven won the previous three games 19-9, 17-14 and 21-20.
Overall, the Buccaneers lead the all-time series with a 14-9-4 record.
Other Week 1 games
Fruitport at Forest Hills Eastern
Manistee at Mason County Central
Chippewa Hills at Oakridge
Orchard View at Spring Lake
Ravenna at Hopkins
Evart at Fremont
Hart at Holton
Hesperia at North Muskegon
Newaygo at Kent City
Indian River Inland Lakes at Ludington
Montague at Reed City
Muskegon Catholic at Algonac
Muskegon Heights at GR Catholic Central
Shelby at Grant
Whitehall at Wyoming Kelloggsville