By Steve Gunn
There are two really big games, with championship implications, headlining the Muskegon area high school football schedule this Friday.
At Hackley Stadium, the 3-1 Muskegon Big Reds will be trying to stay in the O-K Green conference race against undefeated Zeeland West. If the Big Reds win, and Zeeland West goes on to beat Mona Shores next weekend, Muskegon could still could salvage a share of the league championship.
In other action, Oakridge will invade Ravenna for another traditional rivalry game between two West Michigan Conference squads that can put up a ton of points.
Meanwhile, undefeated Muskegon Catholic will try to wrap up sole possession of the Lakes 8 championship by visiting Orchard View, which won the conference title last season.
Reporters and photographers from LocalSportsJournal.com will provide in-person coverage of those four big matchups, and the LSJ staff will be tracking all the other games in the area as well.
Log on to LocalSportsJournal.com on Friday night and Saturday morning to see what teams emerged with important wins!
WHITEHALL (4-0) AT MONTAGUE (4-0)
This game is always fun, just because of the intense neighborhood rivalry.
But every few years it’s even more fun, because it has conference title implications on the line.
This is one of those years, because the Vikings and Wildcats are both loaded with talent, undefeated, and eager to win the perch at the top of the West Michigan Conference.
Both teams have explosive offenses that can put up points in rapid succession, and both have stingy defenses. The final scores of their games so far this season tell the story.
Montague beat Hart 55-0, Oakridge 42-6, Ravenna 48-6 and Shelby 63-0. Whitehall beat Ravenna 48-0, Shelby 64-0, North Muskegon 41-3, and Mason County Central 36-0.
They both have some very dangerous weapons on offense.
Montague senior quarterback Drew Collins is one of the very best players in the area, period. He is an explosive passer, which he demonstrated last week by completing 11 of 17 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns. Against Ravenna a few weeks ago he completed 23 of 27 throws for 307 yards.
Collins has some sure-handed receivers to throw to. Last Friday against Shelby. Andrew Kooi finished with four catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns while Tugg Nichols had five receptions for 62 yards and a score.
The Wildcats lost standout running back Dylan Everett a few weeks ago to a knee injury. He’s expected to return this season. Could it be this week for the big showdown?
If not, the Wildcats won’t be hurt too much, because others have stepped in effectively in Everett’s absence. Last Friday against Shelby, Zack Nelson was the leading rusher with 64 yards on five attempts with two touchdowns, while Sam Smith added 55 yards on six carries and two TDs.
Whitehall features a deep, balanced running game, as evidenced by its performance last Friday in Scottville. Kris Dowdell was the leading rusher with 93 yards, followed by Alec Pruett (87), Jaiden Altgilbers (65), quarterback Andrew Durbin (53), and Nate Bolley (47).
That means the Vikings can keep their backs fresh and rested as they rotate them in and out and wear down opposing defenses.
History is on Montague’s side in this showdown. The Wildcats have a slight 40-35 edge all-time, which has been fueled by their recent domination of Whitehall.
Last year they beat the Vikings 29-8, and have won 9 out of the last 10 games, going back to 2010. But some of those games have been nail-biters, like 2017, when the Wildcats won 46-44, and 2015, when they won 29-28.
If the Wildcats win again, they should have a fairly clear path to the conference title with only one week left in the regular season. They will close out on Oct. 23 against North Muskegon, and will be the solid favorite.
Whitehall has a more difficult path to sole possession of the conference crown. The Vikings would have to beat Montague this week, then beat a good Oakridge team in Week 6.
ZEELAND WEST (4-0) AT MUSKEGON (3-1)
Since their Week 2 loss to Mona Shores, the Big Reds have been working their way back toward their normal form – which means dominant.
They took a step in that direction in Week 3 against Reeths-Puffer. After a relatively quiet first half, they emerged with a pretty convincing 39-7 victory.
They looked even better last week in a 42-20 whipping of a pretty good Zeeland East squad on the road. The game was really not that close, because Zeeland East scored several late touchdowns after Muskegon was resting many of its starters.
Senior quarterback Amari Crowley continued to emerge as the point producer everyone thought he would be, passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 124 yards and two TDs. Jacarri Kitchen had a breakthrough game with 132 yards rushing, 81 receiving and three touchdowns.
Kitchen’s biggest play of the night was a 74-yard touchdown reception from Crowley on a screen pass.
Everything was clicking for Muskegon – even on some mistake plays. Damari Foster attempted to field a punt, but he misjudged the ball and it hit his knees and bounced forward. The alert Foster sprinted forward, scooped the ball up on the run, and returned it for a 70-plus yard touchdown.
Now Muskegon has its biggest challenge since Mona Shores. Zeeland West has plowed over four opponents so far in O-K Green action – Wyoming (60-20), Grand Rapids Union (68-7), Zeeland East (34-14) and Holland (66-6).
West is led by the legendary coach John Shillito, a former Orchard View coach who collected his 300th career victory in Week 3 against Zeeland East.
The Big Reds last met up with the Dux in the 2017 district finals and emerged with a 55-20 victory.
OAKRIDGE (3-1) AT RAVENNA (2-2)
Our course this game doesn’t mean as much as it did a year ago, when the Eagles and Bulldogs clashed with the West Michigan Conference championship on the line.
Oakridge stormed back from a two-touchdown deficit to win 27-20 in overtime in one of the top local games of the season.
This year neither team seems to be quite as good, but Friday’s rivalry game could be more interesting than some people are expecting.
It’s true that Ravenna was beaten badly earlier this season by conference leaders Whitehall and Montague by a combined score of 98-6, but the Bulldogs have also looked impressive at times, with a 35-7 win over Mason County Central in Week 2, and a 55-8 pounding of Hart last Friday.
Quarterback Kyle Beebe emerged against Hart, completing 7 of 9 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns and running for 98 yards on eight carries with four touchdowns. Joel Emery caught three passes for 86 yards, including two touchdowns, while Hunter Logan rushed for 75 yards, including one TD.
Oakridge also still has some doubters after losing to Montague 42-6 in Week 2. But the Eagles’ other games have all been impressive wins, 39-0 over Mason County Central, 63-0 over Hart and last Friday’s 42-0 shutout over a decent North Muskegon squad.
The Eagles really erupted against the Norse. Running back Corey Vanderputte led the way with 115 yards rushing with one touchdown, and a 73-yard touchdown catch. Quarterback Ethen Dailey also played great, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown and passing for 181 yards and two scores.
Oakridge has a 40-12-1 lead in the all-time series against Ravenna, and has won nine games in a row.
The last time Ravenna beat Oakridge was in 2011, when the Bulldogs pulled out a 22-20 win.
MUISKEGON CATHOLIC (4-0) AT ORCHARD VIEW (1-3)
The Muskegon Catholic Crusaders are still putting the finishing touches on their two-season comeback project. After winning four consecutive Division 8 state titles between 2013-16, MCC stumbled to a 3-6 record in 2018 and didn’t even make the playoffs.
Things got better last year, with the Crusaders going 6-3 and returning to the postseason. But that’s not good enough at MCC, and so far this season has been more consistent with tradition.
The Crusaders are perfect so far, with victories over Ludington (30-6), Benton Harbor (38-6), Sparta (42-6) and Manistee last Friday (40-0).
Junior running back Joe Waller was the breakout star last week, rushing for a career-high 231 yards with five touchdowns. Tommy Kartes added 78 yards on the ground for the Crusaders.
With a victory, Muskegon Catholic can regain the Lakes 8 Conference title it last to Orchard View last season.
Orchard View has fallen on hard times since shocking everyone by going 9-0 last year in the regular season. Some key injuries this fall, along with some inexperience along the lines, have produced some tough games for the Cardinals.
They lost to Hopkins 43-0, Manistee 34-20 and Ludington 63-8, before picking up a win by forfeit last week against Lee.
MCC leads the all-time series against OV 20-4, but has lost the last two meetings with the Cardinals, including a 36-19 loss last fall.
OTHER AREA GAMES
Reed City at Fremont
Coopersville at Fruitport
Grand Haven at Jenison
Hesperia at Perry
Morley Stanwood at Holton
Kent City at Lakeview
Manistee at Ludington
Mason County Central at North Muskegon
GR Union at Mona Shores
Reeths-Puffer at East Kentwood
Hart at Shelby
Spring Lake at Holland Christian