By Mitchell Boatman

The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are getting cooler and students are heading back to school.

These are telltale signs that the greatest season of the year – the high school football season –  has indeed arrived.

The 2019 season gets underway with games on both Thursday and Friday nights. will jump in with both feet, providing live coverage of five big games, as well as an in-depth report of a very big game being played on the east side of the state.

On Thursday, LSJ will be on hand when Reeths-Puffer visits Grand Haven in a traditional season opener, Spring Lake visits Orchard View to renew an old conference rivalry, and Muskegon Catholic Central looks to rebound from a sub-par 2018 when it hosts Algonac.

On Friday, LSJ will be there  when Mona Shores hosts East Kentwood in a battle berween two of the top teams in West Michigan, while Montague will host Reed City and attempt to avenge last year’s season-opening loss.

LSJ will also have a report from perhaps the biggest game in the state in Week 1 – Division 3 state runner-up Muskegon visiting Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle at Wayne State University.

Reeths-Puffer at Grand Haven, Thursday, 7 p.m.

The Rockets and Buccaneers will square off to start the season for the fourth straight year.

Both programs are aching to earn a playoff appearance, with the Rockets’ last trip coming in 2013 and Grand Haven last qualifying in 2011.

R-P quarterback Evan Moskwa in action last season.

This game is key for both schools in their quest to earn six wins and a playoff berth. R-P plays in the challenging O-K Black while Grand Haven competes in the tough O-K Red, so non-conference victories are key to finding six wins and an automatic playoff berth.

That was obvious last year, when Reeths-Puffer lost to Grand Haven 27-0 in Week 1 and finished with five victories, one short of playoff eligibility. Grand Haven finished the season 3-6.

Grand Haven, now in year two of the Joe Nelson coaching era, will look to build on a two-win improvement from last season. The Buccaneers will be experienced, with nine returning starters con both sides of the ball. The quarterback position remains a question mark, with an open competition for the job in the weeks leading up to the season opener.

For Reeths-Puffer, new head coach Matt Bird will look to continue the coaching success he had at Grand Ledge, where he made 10 playoff appearances in 13 seasons. Bird will have seven offensive returners, including senior quarterback Evan Mowska, who starred as a junior, passing for 1,859 yards and 23 touchdowns and running for 426 yards and five scores.

The Rockets lead the all-time series 14-10-1, but Grand Haven has come out victorious in four of the last five seasons.

Spring Lake at Orchard View, Thursday 7 p.m.

Two old Seaway Conference and Lakes 8 Conference rivals take the field for their season opener Thursday night.

Last season the Lakers earned their first playoff berth since 2014, while OV had its fourth straight losing season at 2-7.

The Lakers won last year’s opener over the Cardinals 42-19 on their way to a surprising 5-0 start. After an injury to senior quarterback Caleb Montgomery, the Lakers didn’t win another game, but snuck into the playoffs at 5-4. Senior Zach Keyser, who filled in at QB after Montgomery’s injury last year, and junior Zach Mitchell have been competing for the chance to lead the Spring Lake offense this year.

Orchard View will have a new head coach looking to break the school’s playoff drought, which dates back to 2008. Fred Rademacher was able to turn the program around at Hastings and will look to do the same for the Cardinals.

Owen Swanson returns to play quarterback for OV and will have backs Edmari Mitchell and Alex Andrews returning as well.

The series between these teams is nearly even, with Spring Lake holding the edge at 24 wins to OV’s 23. The Lakers have dominated of late, however, winning eight straight dating back to 2009.

Algonac at Muskegon Catholic, Thursday 6 p.m.

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Crusaders will look to right the ship and return to the

MCC quarterback Max Price.

postseason in 2019. The first step in that journey is a game with Algonac in Week 1.

This is just the second all-time matchup for the schools, with the first coming in last year’s season opener. MCC dominated that game 35-7, one of just three wins in 2018. Algonac also had a down season last year, going just 4-5 after three straight 10-win campaigns.

MCC expects to return to form this year with seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense.

That returning core includes quarterback Max Price, who threw for 729 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Crusaders also bring back their two leading rushers and receivers.

With a large group of returning players, the Crusaders are poised to return to the playoffs, where head coach Steve Czerwon is 21-1 in his career.

E. Kentwood at Mona Shores, Friday 7 p.m.

The Sailors and Falcons are both considered among the best teams in West Michigan and will open their season together for the second straight year.

Last year the Sailors held off a late comeback by East Kentwood to win 48-38. It was Mona Shores’ first win against its former O-K Red rival since 1999. The Falcons lead the all-time series 14-5.

The Sailors were bit early and often by the injury bug last year, and have already taken a significant hit this season. All-State senior quarterback Caden Broersma broke a bone in his right hand and won’t be available for the opening weeks of the season.

Junior Brady Rose will step in to run the offense for a team that will look much different than last year’s squad. Six players return to the offense, including Broersma, but just two come back on the defensive side.

The Sailors have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, while EK snapped a two-year drought with an appearance last year. After losing to Mona Shores last season, the Falcons ripped off nine wins in a row before losing to Saline in the playoffs.

Reed City at Montague, Friday 7 p.m. 

The Wildcats and Coyotes have been two of the more successful teams in West Michigan, winning 39 and 43 games, respectively, over the last four years.

Montague QB Drew Collins rolls to his right looking for a receiver last season. 

Montague is looking to build off of a trip to the Division 6 state finals last season, while Reed City is looking to turn its recent success into a first-ever state finals berth.

The teams are squaring off in the season opener for the third straight year. In 2018 Reed City surprised the Wildcats by pulling away for a 34-13 win. Montague leads the all-time series 9-1.

The Wildcats will be led by junior quarterback Drew Collins, who took over the position last season after an injury to Sebastian Archer. Collins threw for 1,947 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Montague returns just four starters on each side of the ball, but that shouldn’t be a problem for a team that usually reloads with a new crop of great players to replace former standouts.

Muskegon vs. Warren De La Salle, Friday 7 p.m.

LSJ will have a full report from this shootout between two state heavyweights, played at Wayne State University.

The Big Reds topped the Pilots in Week 1 last year before advancing all the way to the Division 3 state finals. De La Salle went 12-2 last season and won the Division 2 state title with a 29-16 win over Mona Shores  in the finals.

Muskegon hopes to earn a fourth straight trip to Ford Field behind all-state quarterback and Ohio State University commit Cameron Martinez. The senior has made two trips to the state finals in his career, winning as a freshman at Muskegon Catholic and falling short with the Big Reds last year.

The Big Reds return just four starters offensively, but seven on a defensive unit that should be considerably better than last year.

De La Salle has won back-to-back state championships in Division 2, despite starting out 0-1 both seasons. The Big Reds won last year’s matchup 36-21 and lead the all-time series 3-0.