By Kameron Willer
Local Sports Journal

In a game that wasn’t decided until the final drive, it was a senior standout who largely helped secure the final outcome.

Oakridge senior Corey Vanderputte rushed 32 times for 265 yards and four touchdowns, but it was his play on defense that saved the Eagles against West Michigan Conference rival North Muskegon.

With the Eagles holding onto a slight 32-27 lead, the Norse drove down to Oakridge’s 15-yard line late in the fourth quarter. North Muskegon quarterback James Young fired a pass into the end zone, but Vanderputte was there, grabbing an interception to seal the five-point victory.

“Our offense made some really good plays, and the defense made some crucial plays down the stretch,” said Oakridge head coach Cary Harger, whose squad improves to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in West Michigan Conference play.

North Muskegon falls to 2-4 overall and 2-3 in league games.  

Vanderputte and the Eagles started strong, as he scored on a 3-yard touchdown on their opening drive. It was set up by a 48-yard pass from quarterback Colton Blakstrom, who completed 6-of-7 throws for 124 yards.  

Young and North Muskegon didn’t stay silent for long. Young connected with Brandon Rypstra for a 37-yard touchdown to give the Norse a 7-6 lead.

The Eagles answered right back with a 75-yard kickoff return, setting up a quick drive capped by a 7-yard touchdown run by Vanderputte.

North Muskegon recaptured the lead on a 2-yard run by Denny Belmonte with 10:37 in the second.  The Norse back totaled 56 yards on 15 carries during the contest.  

After a quick scoring drive from Oakridge, the lead would switch hands again back to the Norse.

On a fourth-and-20 play, North Muskegon converted on a 26-yard pass from Young to Carson Moat. Moat led the Norsemen in receiving with three catches for 89 yards.

Vanderputte sprung the Eagles back into the lead before half, as his third touchdown run of the half gave Oakridge a 26-19 lead.

The frenzied scoring would slow down in the third, with North Muskegon waiting until 40 seconds left in the quarter to strike. Young connected on a 62-yard touchdown pass to Matt Colbert, giving North Muskegon a 27-26 lead entering the fourth.

But Vanderputte and Oakridge wouldn’t be denied. The senior back scored his fourth touchdown on a 36-yard run with 11:43 remaining. Defensively, the Eagles also received a big sack from Ethan Jones.

Still, North Muskegon made the Eagles hold their breath. The Norse would mount a late drive, with a 11-yard pass down to the Eagles’ 15-yard line. But Vanderputte made the play to save the day.

“We need to fix some things, capitalize and move onto the next week”, Harger said. “Situational awareness is something we look to improve on next week.”

Defensively, Denny Belmonte led the Norsemen with 16 tackles. Champ Young added 10 tackles and a sack.

The Eagles outrushed the Norseman 378 to 71 yards, but it was Young’s arm that sparked North Muskegon, as he completed 13-of-22 passes for three touchdowns. Oakridge did pick him off two times.