By Greg Gielczyk
The Chippewas rushed for 413 yards in a 50-20 West Michigan Conference-Lakes win over Montague at Chippewa Field.
It marked the second straight game the Chippewas rushed for more than 400 yards and permitted them to dominate the time of possession with a ball control offense.
Defense played a big role in their success as well with three fumble recoveries … including a scoop and score by sophomore Kaden Kott on the first play of the game … in recording their second straight win.
Manistee coach Troy Bytwork didn’t even mind the rain or the chill in the air as he watched from the sidelines.
“You don’t mind the weather really when you’re playing quality ball,” Bytwork said. “Top to bottom, and overall, that’s one of the best efforts I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
“Defensively and offensively. We forced turnovers, and we didn’t turn the ball over at all in obviously very wet conditions, and just played really physical.”
But the Wildcats, who were coming off a 20-0 win over Fremont, kept the score close for a good part of the first half, trailing only 14-12 in the second quarter.
Manistee then reeled off three straight touchdowns to mount a 24-point lead with 4 minutes gone in the third quarter to take full command.
The Wildcats turned the ball over on their first offensive play from scrimmage, when a receiver caught a pass but then fumbled.
Kott gathered it up and raced 33 yards for the touchdown with just 14 seconds ticking off the clock. Senior quarterback Jeff Huber hit Nick Hornkohl on a 2-point conversion pass and Manistee led, 8-0.
Manistee led the rest of the way.
The Wildcats, two years removed from a state championship, kept things interesting and refused to go away quietly early in the game.
After the Chippewas had stunned them with that quick score, the Wildcats answered it convincingly with quarterback Chase Gowell hitting Owen Petersen with a 36-yard scoring strike to cut Manistee’s lead to 8-6 with 10:22 to play in the first quarter.
Huber scored the first of his four touchdowns in the game with a 1-yard run with one second left, and the Chippewas bumped their lead up to 14-6.
The Wildcats stayed right with the Chippewas, though, as Adam Baird scored on a 14-yard run that cut the Manistee lead to just two points, 14-12 at the 10:56 mark of the second quarter.
Manistee then put two touchdowns on the board while holding Montague scoreless to build a 28-12 lead at the half, Huber scoring both times on runs of 20 and 30 yards. Kott added the 2-point conversion after the second.
“We got the ball coming out (for the third quarter), drove it right down and put one in. It just set a tone,” Bytwork said. “Obviously, that second half we kept turning them over.
“Jeff Huber played a whale of a game. Just called a great game, kept moving the ball with his legs. It was a lot of fun watching the line get out in front of him on a bunch of those keeps.
“It just comes down to those guys up front, from tight end to tackle. Isaiah Davis, his stat line wasn’t as big as last week running the ball, but he just had just had some devastating blocks on the outside that really sprung Kaden Kott and Nick Hornkohl all night.”
Kott capped a 65-yard, 8-play drive that took almost four minutes off the clock with a 4-yard burst off tackle, and hauled in the 2-point conversion pass from Huber to give Manistee a 36-12 lead with 8:56 left in the third period.
An unnecessary roughness penalty against the Chippewas on the ensuing kickoff return set the Wildcats up at midfield, and Austin Cook went in from a yard out on the ninth play to snap Montague’s scoreless spell and Gowell passed to Petersen for the 2-point conversion that made it 36-20 with 5:34 left.
But, it was to be the last points Montague scored.
Huber added his fourth TD on a 29-yard scamper to cap a 91-yard march, with Hornkohl tacking on the 2-point conversion.
Kott ended the scoring for the night with a 6-yard run.
Kott rushed for 134 yards and 2 TDs on 25 carries, while Huber also ran for 134 yards and scored 4 times on 14 keepers. Davis finished with 83 yards on 14 totes.
Huber was 2-of-2 passing for 48 yards, one pass going to Hornkohl for 25 yards and another of 23 yards to Kott.
Davis led the Manistee defense with 9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles. Hornkohl finished with 11 tackles and Braydon Sorenson had nine. Kott also had a pass interception.
Montague had 187 yards total offense, 118 rushing and 69 passing.
Baird led the Wildcats with 92 yards rushing on 15 attempts. Gowell completed 6-of-12 passes for 69 yards, three going to Petersen for 36 yards.
Silas Jancek was the top tackler on the Wildcats with 17, followed by Michael Moore 14, Petersen and Brody Dietz 11 each, Rodney Brassfield 8, Dylan Powers 7 and Izac Jarka 6. Brassfield had 2 tackles for loss and Dietz 1.
Manistee improved to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the conference. The Chippewas end the regular season at Fremont next Friday with hopes of earning a playoff berth.
The Wildcats slipped to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the conference with only next Friday night’s game at Oakridge left in the regular season.