By Craig Beilfuss
The Montague Wildcats have come a long way since their 35-0 loss to Edwardsburg in the season opener last month.
Since then, the Wildcat defense has been nearly flawless. During their four-game winning streak, that includes two shutouts, the Wildcats have allowed 14 points.
They sit at a familiar spot atop the West Michigan Conference standings at 4-0 with a road game looming on Friday night at Shelby. The Tigers come into the game winless, having scored just 12 points.
“I know they have struggled a little so far this season,”Montague coach Justin Dennert said. “I give them credit for playing hard each week, and not shying away from anyone in the conference. I give them credit for playing a full conference schedule and competing no matter who the opponent is.”
What changed for the Wildcats from Week 1 to the present?
“We tweaked some things on the offensive line that have helped us in the run game,” said Dennert. “Defensively, we went back to basics and focused on fundamental techniques. We have been able to run the ball successfully the past four weeks and that will need to continue. We also need to continue to play great team defense.”
Now comes the task of focusing for a game against a struggling Shelby squad.
“We are just emphasizing focusing on ourselves,” Dennert said. “We made a lot of mistakes against Ravenna that we need to fix, so that is our mindset this week.”
Shelby first-year head coach, Phil Fortier, knows his Tiger squad is in for a tough matchup on Friday evening.
“Offensively, they have great balance,” Fortier said. “They run the ball well and pass it efficiently. They have a very good running back and an all-state lineman.
“Defensively, they are aggressive and pursue to the football extremely well. It is no secret that we need to be more physical on defense and tackle better if we are going to be competitive with anybody we play,” Fortier said. “We must get more consistent on offense.”
“If you look at what they have accomplished as a program over the past 20 years, it is impressive,” Fortier said. “They have three state championships and a boat load of playoff appearances. We have fallen on hard times recently after those great runs from 2010-2013 under Coach Rodriguez. My job is to find ways for us to become a stronger program and that is what my staff and I intend to do.”
Montague will bring an overall record of 4-1 into the 7 p.m. game on Friday night. Shelby is 0-5 overall and 0-3 in conference play.