By Mitchell Boatman

Local rivalries are the backbone of high school football.

When it comes to the Greater Muskegon area, and even the state of Michigan, rivalries don’t get much more intense or entertaining than Whitehall versus Montague.

The “Battle for the Bell” headlines our Local Sports Journal “Spotlight Games” for Week 5, and figures to be another tightly-contested game. Both teams enter at 3-1, and are pushing for a West Michigan Conference title and a playoff berth.

LSJ will have full live coverage of that game and two more WMC rivalry games – Oakridge at Ravenna and Hart at Shelby – as well as an O-K Blue meeting between undefeated Spring Lake and Comstock Park.

Make sure to check Friday night for stories on these games and reports on 12 other area matchups.

Whitehall (3-1) at Montague (3-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

The Vikings and Wildcats have met 74 times since 1950. Montague has won 38 of those contests, including three straight, while Whitehall sits at 36 wins.

MHSAA referee and White Lake resident Chuck Hulce gets ready for Sunday’s coin toss on the bridge that separate Montague and Whitehall. Photo/Leo Valdez

Last year’s game was symbolic of the intense rivalry. The Wildcats edged out a 46-44 victory in a thrilling battle. The 90 combined points is tied for the most in the game’s history.

Both offenses have the potential to run up the score again. Montague averages 49.25 points per game and Whitehall scores 33 per contest.

This game isn’t just about bragging rights. The Battle of the Bell will impact the WMC race and the MHSAA playoff picture, as well. Montague is tied atop the conference with Oakridge and Ravenna at 3-0, while Whitehall is 2-1 in WMC play.

Both teams have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, but the loser will have to win three out of four remaining games to reach the necessary six wins, while the winner will need just two

The Wildcats have won three straight games this season after an opening-week loss to Reed City, and come in ranked No. 11 in the state in Division 5. Last week, in a 62-20 win over North Muskegon, Bryce Stark led the attack with 165 yards and five touchdowns.

Johnny Monette added 122 yards and a pair of scores, while quarterback Drew Collins totaled 100 yards and ran for a touchdown.

Whitehall comes in following a 42-14 loss to powerful Oakridge. Kayleb Venema led the offense last week with 57 rushing yards and a touchdown. He has 384 yards and seven scores on the season.

Quarterback Gavin Schaeffer has been good as well, with 256 yards passing, 110 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns through four games.

Oakridge (4-0) at Ravenna (3-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

Connor Kilbourne winds back to make the pass during Ravenna’s Week 3 win over North Muskegon. Photo/Mitchell Dixon MSD Photography

This game might not get the attention of the Whitehall-Montague showdown, but it doesn’t have any less meaning.

Oakridge and Ravenna have played every year since 1967, which was the third year of the Oakridge football program. The Eagles have owned the rivalry in recent years, winning six in a row and 12 of the last 13.

Each team has started the conference season 3-0, making the rivalry game that much more important. Oakridge and Ravenna are tied for first in the WMC with Montague, and both still have the Wildcats waiting on the schedule.

The Eagles are one of just five unbeaten teams remaining in the Greater Muskegon area and are ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 5 by the Associated Press. Oakridge has reached 4-0 in dominating fashion, outscoring opponents by an average of 44.5 points per game. Last week’s 42-14 win over Whitehall was the team’s closest game so far.

Leroy Quinn once again led the rushing attack last week with 135 yards and two touchdowns. Blake Masterman also put together a big game, with 93 rushing yards, 44 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

After winning just three games last season, the Ravenna football team has its sights set on the playoffs. The Bulldogs have rattled off three consecutive wins to match last year’s total, and want to take the next step and end their losing streak to Oakridge.

Ravenna is averaging 53 points in three wins this year, and is coming off a 51-0 win over Shelby. Quarterback Connor Kilborne was nearly perfect in the win, going 7 of 8 through the air. He totaled 188 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 937 yards and 11 scores.

Hart (1-3) at Shelby (0-4), Friday, 7 p.m.

Shelby running back No. 10 Latrell Sobers makes a cut while Harts No. 2 Saul Aguilar-Salgado pursues during the 2016 game. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Pirates and Tigers have both struggled in recent years, but that hasn’t dialed back the intensity of this Oceana County rivalry.

Since the Hart football team returned in 2016 following a one-year absence, the two games with Shelby have been decided by a combined eight points. The Pirates took both games, a 20-19 win in 2016 and a 14-7 victory last season.

Both teams always manage to give their all against each other, regardless of records and recent success. Despite losing the last two meetings, Shelby leads the series 42-25 since 1950.

Hart comes in after picking up its first win of the year, 20-14 over Mason County Central, last week. Quarterback Dustin Klotz totaled 140 yards and a score, while O’Rian Torres found the end zone twice in the win.

Shelby lost to Ravenna 51-0 last week. Tanner Astrauskas ran for 32 yards, while Christian Cooper had 34 yards passing and 17 rushing.

The Tigers narrowly missed out on a win in Week 1, falling 20-13 to Grant, but have struggled in WMC play. Shelby was outscored 187-7 in games against Montague, Oakridge and Ravenna, who are 10-2 combined.

Spring Lake (4-0) at Comstock Park (0-4), Friday, 7 p.m.

Spring Lake has been the biggest surprise in the area this year. After struggling to an 0-9 record last season, the Lakers are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2010 and are ranked No. 9 in the state in Division 3.

The Lakers have shown great improvement on both sides of the ball. In 2017, Spring Lake allowed at least 21 points in every game and 40 or more points seven times. This year, the Lakers haven’t allowed more than 20 points in any game, and opponents are scoring just 11.75 points per game.

The offense has improved, too. It’s scored 139 points already this year, compared to just 94 all of last season. A big reason has been quarterback Caleb Montgomery.

Spring Lake QB Caleb Montgomery makes the cut towards the middle during the Lakers’ win over Orchard View in Week 1. Photo/Tim Reilly

The senior has thrown for 467 yards, rushed for 712 and accounted for 13 touchdowns. In last week’s 38-8 win over Coopersville, Montgomery totaled 315 yards and five touchdowns.

Spring Lake will look to go to 5-0 for the first time since 2005 on the road against Comstock Park in an O-K Blue Conference game. The teams have met three times, with the Panthers winning 47-20 last season and 37-0 in the 2011 state playoffs. The Lakers won 33-28 in 2016.

The Panthers come in at 0-4, but aren’t a typical winless team. They lost by one point in Week 2 to Wyoming and by three points last week against a 3-1 Allendale team. They also lost to five-time defending state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic. Comstock Park is averaging 29.75 points per game.

Other area games

Newaygo (2-2) at Fremont (1-3)
Muskegon (4-0) at Fruitport (1-3)
Rockford (1-3) at Grand Haven (2-2)
Lakeview (1-3) at Hesperia (1-3)
White Cloud (0-4) at Holton (3-1)
Kent City (4-0) at Morley Stanwood (3-1)
Ludington (2-2) at Muskegon Heights (0-4)
Mason County Central (0-4) at North Muskegon (1-3)
Kenowa Hills (1-3) at Mona Shores (4-0)
Muskegon Catholic Central (2-2) at Cassopolis (4-0)
Orchard View (1-3) at Manistee (4-0)
Grand Rapids Union (0-4) at Reeths-Puffer (1-3)