By Ron Rop

KENTWOOD – A matchup between the No. 1 vs. No. 2 team doesn’t always deliver on all the pre-game hype.

Friday night’s Division 4 regional championship game between the top-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian Sailors and the No. 2-ranked Whitehall Vikings delivered plenty of excitement and drama that a game of such importance should deliver.

In the end, the Sailors (12-0) scored a late touchdown and escaped with a 28-21 victory over Whitehall (11-1) in a game played at East Kentwood High School.

Some miscues down the stretch cost the Vikings dearly in a game of two evenly matched teams.

“Tight games are always tough to lose,” Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon said. “Those are the ones where you could really nit pick several different plays with ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda.’ They are a great football team and our kids went ahead and played at a high level. We shot ourselves in the foot at the wrong time and  we have a lot of kids who are taking a lot of ownership on this and they don’t have to. I am going to take the ownership for it.”

With the game knotted at 21-all, the Sailors faced a fourth down and 6 at the Viking 28. However, the Vikings’ defense jumped offside on two consecutive plays and South Christian was in business with a first down at the 18.

Five plays later, Sailor Nate Brinks caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Jacob DeHaan with 54 seconds to go and that’s what provided the final margin of victory.

It was a tight matchup throughout the game as South Christian took a 7-0 lead in the opening quarter on a 1-yard run by DeHaan.

Whitehall evened the score in the second quarter when quarterback Kyle Stratton scrambled around in the backfield until he found sophomore Camden Thompson for a 46-yard touchdown pass.

The first half ended in a 7-all standoff.

The Sailors regained the lead in the third quarter when Brinks caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from DeHaan. However, Whitehall had another answer when Jackson Cook scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to tie it at 14-all. That score came with 2:50 remaining in the third quarter.

“We saw some things that we kind of liked and dug around in our playback to where we thought there were some advantages here and there,” Sigmon said of his team’s offensive output in the second half. “We capitalized on them, but didn’t capitalize on enough of them, obviously.”

Whitehall’s defense forced a punt in the final seconds of the third quarter and began a drive of its own.

Stratton hit Nate Bolley on a crossing route that netted 42 yards down to the South Christian 22. Two plays later, Cook smashed through the line on a hard fought 9-yard run. Two plays later, Bolley rushed in from the 4.

With 9:41 remaining, the Vikings had their first lead at 21-14.

South Christian’s explosive offense went right back to work on the ensuing drive. A six-play, 68 yards culminated with DeHaan firing a 16-yard touchdown pass to senior Seth Ritsema. Brink’s extra point tied the game at 21 with 6:54 remaining.

With 80 yards ahead of them and nearly 7 minutes of time on the clock, the Vikings went to work. However, after six plays, the Vikings were forced to punt. With heavy pressure from Gabe Kisner, the punt sailed out of bounds and the Sailors took over at the Viking 32.

Eight plays later, the Sailors scored what proved to be the winning points.

“They find a way to do it,” Sailor coach Danny Brown said. “It’s a special team and it’s a riot to coach.”

Whitehall ran several plays in a desperate attempt to pull off a miracle, but the clock ran out in the game and on the Vikings’ season.

“Credit those guys, they are a good football team,” Sigmon said. “DeHaan and the offense made the plays at the right moment.”

Stratton rushed 15 times for 90 yards and completed 8-of-15 passes for 128 yards. 

For the Sailors, DeHaan rushed 23 times for 91 yards and completed 13-of-23 passes for 149 yards.

South Christian will face Edwardsburg (11-1), which defeated Hastings 24-14 on Friday night.

All photos below are courtesy of LSJ photographer Jake Szetela