By Steve Gunn
It’s only Week 3, and it’s already the midway point of this strange six-game regular season.
Montague, a state semifinalist last year, looked great in a big win over Oakridge in the annual West Michigan Conference showdown.
Five other teams also improved their records to 2-0 – Whitehall, North Muskegon, Muskegon Catholic, Holton and Kent City. Four teams that started the season with ugly losses – Fruitport, Spring Lake, Ravenna and Reeths-Puffer – bounced back with big wins and breathed new life into their seasons.
This Friday LocalSportsJournal.com will send reporters and photographers to three games – Reeths-Puffer at Muskegon in O-K Green conference action, North Muskegon at Whitehall in a key West Michigan Conference matchup, and Allendale at Fruitport in an interesting O-K Blue conference clash.
Check out our previews of the three Spotlight Games below, then log on to LocalSportJournal.com on Friday night and Saturday morning to see how every area team made out in Week 3!
REETHS-PUFFER (1-1) AT MUSKEGON (1-1)
Reeths-Puffer does not have an enviable task on Friday.
It’s always tough to play Muskegon under any circumstances, but the Big Reds will be extra ornery this Friday, after falling 21-14 to Mona Shores at home last week in the biggest local game of the year.
An early 14-0 deficit hurt Muskegon. The Big Reds rallied in the second half and tied the score 14-14, before the Sailors’ do-everything quarterback Brady Rose scored with winning touchdown on the ground.
Essentially the Big Reds could not stop Rose, who threw for 118 yards and a pair of scores, ran for 105 yards and another score, led the Sailor defense with 10 tackles, and had the victory-sealing interception with 28 seconds left to play.
There were several offensive bright spots for Muskegon, including quarterback Amari Crowley, who got his first start of the season and rushed for 124 yards and passed for 68. Jacarri Kitchen ran for 75 yards, and Julius Sims had 51 receiving yards.
The loss broke a 35-game regular season winning streak for Muskegon.
But the Big Reds are still super talented and far from finished. Coming off four straight appearances in the state finals, they will be more motivated than ever to right the ship.
Reeths-Puffer will be big underdogs, but will come into the game after a big 59-14 win over Holland last week, which took some of the sting out of a 55-0 loss to Mona Shores in Week 1.
Muskegon has a dominant 20-1-1 record against the Rockets over the years.
NORTH MUSKEGON (2-0) AT WHTEHALL (2-0)
The Whitehall Vikings may be the comeback team of the year this season.
Last year the Vikings were decimated by injuries and staggered to a 3-6 record. That broke a string of five straight years when they won at least six games and made the state playoffs.
Whitehall is healthy and experienced this season, returning a bunch of starters from last year’s team, including nine on offense and eight on defense. So far the Vikings have looked great, opening the season with a 43-0 victory over Ravenna, and improving to 2-0 last week with a 64-0 romp over Shelby.
Their running game was in high gear against Shelby, with quarterback Andrew Durbin rushing for 129 yards, Jaiden Altgilbers adding 103 yards and Alec Pruett gaining 87.
All signs point to Whitehall being a contender for the West Michigan Conference title, which has been the exclusive property of Oakridge or Montague in recent years.
If the Vikings end up on top of the conference standings, they will have to earn it over the next four weeks. They will be challenged this week by the Norse, and will be favored in Week 4 over Mason County Central, but then will close the regular season with games at Montague on Oct. 16 and at Oakridge on Oct. 23.
North Muskegon is also off to a very good start, despite going into the season with a pretty inexperienced lineup.
The Norse beat Shelby 42-0 in Week 1, and Hart 41-16 last Friday.
Quarterback Brendan Panucci passed for 111 yards and a touchdown against Hart, Denny Belmonte rushed for 83 yards and a TD, while Amerion Dickerson had 85 receiving yards, including a touchdown.
With a 2-0 conference record, North Muskegon is probably also thinking about contending for the West Michigan Conference crown. Like Whitehall, the Norse will have their work cut out for them, with matchups against Oakridge on Oct. 9 and Montague on Oct. 23, with Mason County Central in between.
North Muskegon leads the all-time series against Whitehall 28-24.
ALLENDALE (2-0) at FRUITPORT (1-1)
Fruitport has not had a winning season since 2013, and after dropping its opener to Hamilton 46-12, some fans may have been thinking that they were in for more of the same this year.
That feeling was strengthened after the first quarter of last Friday’s game against Holland Christian, when the Trojans failed to score.
But then came the second quarter, and the Fruitport squad that many expected to be pretty good this year suddenly turned on the gas. By the time the dust had settled, the Trojans had claimed a 44-15 victory, their first win ever in their new conference (the O-K Blue), and new hope for the rest of the season.
Quarterback Gavin Reames sparked the offense by completing 10 of 17 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Camden Farrell rushed the ball four times for 102 yards and caught four passes for 35 yards. Cody Nash rushed for 83 yards, with most of it coming on an 80-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring.
Now the Trojans will test their newfound success against Allendale, a traditional O-K Blue power that has opened the season with a pair of wins over Holland Christian (44-23) and Hamilton (24-14).
OTHER AREA GAMES
Tri-County at Fremont
East Kentwood at Grand Haven
Hesperia at Morley Stanwood
Oakridge at Hart
Holton at Kent City
Ludington at Orchard View
Mason County Central at Shelby
Holland at Mona Shores
Montague at Ravenna
GR West Catholic at Spring Lake
Muskegon Catholic at Sparta