By Nate Thompson

MONTAGUE – Every team faces adversity over the course of a season.

Some team’s issues are obviously larger and more prolonged than others, but even teams with recent state finals experience have rough spots along the way.

The Montague football team’s darkest time this fall – and its opportunity to find some clarity – came in back-to-back West Michigan Conference losses to Oakridge and Ravenna in Weeks 5 and 6.

The biggest issue was why a team averaging 48.5 points per contest was held to just 13 and 7 points in those two games.

Granted, the Wildcats played against Oakridge in a torrential downpour, which greatly affected their passing attack. But they continued to struggle to move the ball against Ravenna, resulting in a 17-7 setback.

“We’re a really young team and experiencing those rough stretches, it’s a matter of learning and getting better,” said Montague head coach Pat Collins. “Facing tough opponents like we do, it only improves you.

Drew Collins drops back into the pocket during the Wildcats’ narrow loss to Ravenna. Photo/Leo Valdez

“During that stretch, we realized we weren’t executing,” he added. “So our coaching staff kind of took a step back to find out specifically what we were doing right and wrong. Or we thought, maybe we’re doing too much?

“It allowed us to reset ourselves a little bit and go back to the drawing board.”

The bad times did not linger for the Wildcats. They have spun off four straight victories, including an impressive 18-14 win over a talented Portland squad in week 9, and a blowout 55-7 victory over Newaygo last week in the opening round of the Division 6 state playoffs.

The resurgence is very similar to last season, when Montague lost the first and last game of the regular season, then pulled things together and advanced all the way to the Division 6 state finals.

The Wildcats will look to extend their winning streak to five and gain a measure of revenge on Friday, when they host Ravenna (8-2) with a district championship on the line. Montague, also 8-2, will be gunning for its third straight district title.

Collins said the team simplified the playbook and made some lineup changes, including moving former starting running back Johnny Monette to slot receiver, with sophomore Dylan Everett becoming the primary ball carrier. Everett had a big game against Newaygo, rushing 11 times for 104 yards and totaling 98 receiving yards.

The offensive line has performed more consistently, but the biggest reason for the Wildcats’ rebound is the improvement at quarterback. Junior Drew Collins tossed five touchdown passes against Newaygo, including a pair to Monette. Overall, the Wildcats’ signal-caller has thrown 12 touchdown passes and totaled 858 yards through the air in the last four games.

No. 3 Johnny Monette runs in motion before the snap in Montague’s game against Whitehall. Photo/Leo Valdez

Drew Collins, who is the coach’s son, said after the losses to Oakridge and Ravenna, the team had a good meeting, where several issues — about football and the team — were discussed.

“The chemistry just wasn’t really there,” Collins said. “We had to figure out why we were making a lot of mistakes. It involved pairing down the offense to find plays we ran really well.”

Although a junior, Collins has the experience of leading a team to an extended postseason run, as he did a year ago in guiding the Wildcats to the state finals at Ford Field. Montague put up a good fight in the title game before losing 42-28 to Jackson Lumen Christi.

“That (experience) is pretty big,” he said. “Even though we’ve got a lot of sophomores and juniors, we still know what it’s like to walk out onto Ford Field. We see how it works and how to win in big games. Because starting in November, it’s a different kind of football.”

Still, a key to winning in November is not turning the ball over, which Coach Collins said was a downfall in the first meeting against Ravenna.

“I remember a lot of mistakes from myself and turnovers which gave them a lot of short fields,” he said. “We need to clean that up.”