By Greg Gielczyk

MANISTEE —Leading from start to finish, the Oakridge football team made a huge statement against Manistee in the West Michigan Conference Lakes Division opener for both teams Friday night.

The Eagles scored on their first drive and never looked back in a 46-19 win at Chippewa Field in Manistee.

After taking an early 8-0 lead, the Chippewas answered with a score of their own to make it a 1-point game, 8-7.

But that was the last time Manistee would be that close as the Eagles dominated the remainder of the first half in sprinting to a convincing 40-7 lead after the first 24 minutes.

Junior team captain Trevor Jones scored two touchdowns and gained nearly 200 yards.

“The line just stepped up and kept making holes, playing hard and kept pushing,” Jones said. “The losses two years in a row to Grand Rapids Catholic Central just has me driven to go farther in the playoffs.

“I see open field, and I just go and just try to get it into the end zone. Just focus on the end zone and get that touchdown. I just keep going. I don’t look over my shoulder.”

It was Jones who scored the Eagles’ first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 8:42 left in the first quarter after Oakridge received the opening kickoff. Wyatt Douglas added the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.

“He is a workhorse,” said Oakridge coach Cary Harger. “He works very, very hard and his teammates know that. They love watching him play, and he loves playing for them. It’s a relationship that’s awesome.”

Manistee came right back, finding the end zone on a 30-yard run by Nick Hornkohl with Caius Johns adding the point after kick to cut the Eagles’ lead to 8-7 at the 3:07 mark.

But the rest of the half belonged to the Eagles.

Senior running back Chris Knapp scored on a 1-yard dive, and Evan Miller hauled in the 2-point conversion pass from quarterback Matt Danicek to increase the Eagles’ lead to 16-7 with 10:50 to play in the second quarter.

“Our goal is to try to score on every possession,” Harger said. “Obviously, every team’s going to try that. We just knew that it was a statement game with the league expanding the way it was. We wanted to come out and make a statement in the conference. With that touchdown early on, and then continuing, that gave our kids the fuel to keep going.

“After they scored, I mentioned to the kids that they were going to have a little fire, so be ready for their game. We just had to keep playing ours, and keep our eyes wide open, read our keys a little bit better, and shut things down on defense.”

The Eagles checked all of those boxes, scoring 32 unanswered points and rolling into the half with a 40-7 lead.

Knapp scored again later in the second quarter, breaking free on a 27-yard scamper untouched into the end zone. Miller’s 2-point conversion made it 24-7 at 6:52.

Danicek then hit Jones with a 53-yard scoring strike and Knapp added the 2-point conversion and the Eagles scored on a 71-yard run to end the half.

Manistee finally broke the Eagles’ string in the third quarter, taking the second half kickoff and marching 67 yards in 17 plays that ate up all but 2:20 of the clock and resulted in a 4-yard run by Hornkohl.

Jones raced 55 yards for the final Eagles touchdown on Oakridge’s next possession, and Manistee closed the scoring on a 6-yard run by Trevor Spencer.

“A couple of our kids are pretty fast,” Harger said. “Trevor’s the fastest kid on the team. They’ve worked hard to get that. They bust their butts in the summer.

“Now, they’re another year older, and they’re more hungry and definitely want to contribute. Manistee has some big boys up front, and our guys were up to the challenge.”

Oakridge improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the WMC Lakes Division and will host Ludington next Friday in another conference game. The Orioles snuck past Fremont, 7-0, on Friday night.

Manistee dropped to 2-1 and 0-1 in the conference. The Chippewas host Orchard View next Friday night looking to even their conference mark.

Photos courtesy of LSJ photographer Greg Gielczyk