By Greg Gielczyk
WHITEHALL–The top two teams in Division 4 – No. 1 Grand Rapids South Christian and No. 2 Whitehall – put their 11-0 records on the line Friday night.
The regional final game in Division 4 is 7 p.m. Friday at East Kentwood in one of the premiere matchups in the state.
Last week, South Christian scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to pull away from Unity Christian, 35-20, to earn its second consecutive district title.
“I think they do a wonderful job of being fundamentally sound, just with their overall scheme of things,” said Vikings coach Tony Sigmon. “That’s the first thing that jumps out to me. They’re very efficient. They’re very disciplined, they’re well-coached, and then obviously, when it comes to athletes and personnel, they’re excellent in their own right.”
Sigmon said he’s seen South’s type of offense in recent years.
“Really, the type of offense we’re looking at that they’re going to be playing reminds me of an offense that we’ve seen in the past from Montague from 2019 back in terms of some of their concepts,” Sigmon said.
Unity Christian scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the game, but the Sailors reached the end zone on their first three to lead, 21-14 at halftime. The Sailors limited the Crusaders to one score in the second half, while scoring twice themselves to end a four-game losing streak to Unity Christian since 2015.
Leading the Sailors was senior quarterback Jake DeHaan, who gained 155 yards on 21 carries and scored four rushing touchdowns of 10, 2, 8 and 35 yards. In addition, he completed 22-of-28 passes for 209 yards and hit Nate Brinks with a 15-yard touchdown pass.
During the Vikings’ off week in the ninth week due to a forfeit, Sigmon saw South Christian play and came away impressed.
“Their talent, their size, their speed really does jump out,” Sigmon said. “A very impressive football team. (DeHaan) has had a lot of publicity, and justifiably so. He does a wonderful job. He really reminds a lot of our quarterback (Kyle Stratton), in terms of there’s a lot of pieces around him. But you can definitely tell that he’s a person that is their trigger man and does a great job of getting the ball out to playmakers outside of himself.
“And then obviously he’s a playmaker in his own right, too.”
The leading tackler on defense for the Sailors was Cayden Dykema, who was in on 13 stops. He received support from teammates Ben Mulder with 8 and Jake Cashen with 7 tackles on the night.
In talking about the Sailors’ defense, Sigmon says they show a couple of different fronts, from a 3-4 package as well as their 4-3 look, and even walking up a linebacker from that 4-3 set.
Whitehall knows it has to prepare for everything, because the Sailors do a good job of not showing any particular tendencies and execute all three defenses very well.
“Everything is just kind of clicking,” said Sigmon. “We’ve had a great couple days of practice here recently. I’ll tell you the truth, our practice has been the best this week and last week as it’s probably been all year. Things are really kind of peaking at the right time in terms of hitting, tackling and everything. We’ve actually practiced over at Holton so we could get on turf.
“Our kids really embraced that opportunity last night, and really look fast on the field. Really just had a clean practice.”
South Christian won state titles in 2012 and 2014, while losing in the finals in 2013.
Whitehall has been in the playoffs eight straight seasons and its second berth in the regionals since 2014.
“In watching the news outlets and everything, this is going to be a big one, and justifiably so,” said Sigmon. “This is something I think a lot of people have been waiting to see, probably since the end of September in the West Michigan area. So, it’s exciting. Our kids are excited for it, and I’m sure their kids are, too. We’re hoping that we can live up to our end of the bargain and come ready to play and embrace the moment.”
The winner advances to the state semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 19 against either Hastings or Edwardsburg, who square off in the other regional final in Edwardsburg.