By Greg Gielczyk
Can the Oakridge Eagles get over the hump and win a Division 5 regional championship and move on to the state semifinal?
That will be a tall order as highly-touted Grand Rapids Catholic Central stands in their way.
The game is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Grand Rapids.
The Eagles have won two games in a row to improve their record to 8-2. Oakridge has won two in a row after losing to Muskegon Catholic Central, 30-28, in Week 9.
GR Catholic Central bring an unblemished mark of 11-0 into the contest.
And, the Cougars are also looking to win their second-straight regional title. They won the Division 5 regional last year. They won the Division 5 state title in 2019.
“GRCC is a talented team on both sides of the ball,” Oakridge coach Cary Harger said. “They are quick and aggressive on defense. They do what they do very well.”
The Cougars haven’t lost a game since Week 2 of the 2019 season. Catholic Central’s 44-6 victory over West Catholic was the Cougars’ 13th straight playoff win.
GR Catholic Central flashed its explosive passing attack with quarterback John Passinault going 15-of-25 for 168 yards and five touchdowns. Three of those touchdown passes went to receiver Nolan Ziegler.
What’s interesting is that Passinault began the season as a receiver and was moved to quarterback in the fourth week of the season when senior quarterback Joey Silveri was lost for the season with a knee injury.
The Cougars’ offense has been prolific this season. They have scored 41 points or more since Week 4, when they beat South Christian, 28-6.
Oakridge’s defensive backfield faces a mighty tall order attempting to keep the Cougars’ offense under wraps.
“This week we have to get the best look we can at practice,” Harger said. “Their athleticism on both sides of the ball is something we haven’t seen all year.”
Passinault is also one of the Cougars best defensive backs. He picked off two passes a week ago.
What are the three keys to winning the game?
“Ball control, try to limit their big plays and work as hard as we possibly can for four quarters,” Harger said.
Cougars head coach Todd Kolster has great respect for the Eagles.
“I obviously expect to see a really good football team,” Kolster said, “A bunch of well-coached kids who play hard and play the game the right way.
“They return a lot of guys from a year ago and have some really good skill players (quarterback Matt Danicek for one). They actually have a couple running backs that I think are really good.
“And they have some big kids up front who do a good job. So, they are a heck of a challenge. I don’t know what their average is per game, but it has to be in the upper 40s for sure.
“So, the reason for that is they have some good players and Coach Harger does a good job.”
Defensively, Kolster said the Eagles remind him of his own squad.
“We don’t do a lot of stuff on defense, they don’t do a lot of stuff schematically,” Kolster said. “But, they play hard. They’re simple, so their kids can run around and play fast and play aggressive.
“They’re a lot like us that way. Obviously, we have to be really sharp mentally and
The Cougars put the quarterback in the shot gun with no huddle and run the spread. But Kolster said they don’t just throw the ball. He said they will run it as well.
Kolster said the key to beating Oakridge is pretty basic.
“Obviously, you have to stop the run,” Kolster said. “You know, they do a great job going back from scheme to scheme. They’ll be in the wing ‘T’ then they’ll be in the spread and they’ll do some things that way.
“But, you’ve got to be able to stop the run to have a chance. If we stop the run against them, we’ll have a chance.”
Kolster believes the Cougars need to run the ball effectively themselves.
“We have to run the ball better in short yardage situations,” Kolster said. “So, I think that’s a big thing for us. And, we have to execute up front with our offensive line, our tight end, and stuff like that in terms of blocking schemes.
“We have a good job of executing and just recognizing their front. I think if we do that, that will give us a chance at least offensively. I think overall, obviously our special teams have to play well.”