MONTAGUE – Justin Dennett’s tenure as Montague’s head football coach began inauspiciously on Aug. 26 with a lopsided loss.
Division 4 power Edwardsburg rolled into town and left the reigning Division 6 state champion Wildcats battered and bruised.
Three weeks and three dominant victories later, including Friday’s runaway 33-7 triumph over visiting rival Oakridge, the Wildcats emphatically showed they’re not done. Far from it. In fact, Dennett & Co. are just getting started, it appears.
Behind a balanced offensive attack and stingy defense, Montague controlled Oakridge from start to finish. The Wildcats improve to 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the West Michigan Conference, while the Eagles suffer their first loss at 3-1, 2-1 in the league.
“We knew that they were going to be big and we knew that they were going to be good, but we were telling our guys all week that they’ve got to want it,” Montague senior Tugg Nichols said about the message to his team’s linemen, who were hearing all week how good Oakridge was up front.
“If you want it, that’s where the game’s going to be won. I mean, everybody knows the game’s won in the trenches no matter what. We were just telling them, ‘Oakridge wants it more, Oakridge wants it more,’ and then they came out and showed that we wanted it more this week.”
Three weeks into conference play, Montague stands alone atop the standings. Oakridge, which defeated Whitehall 32-19 two weeks ago, and the Vikings are tied for second with Ravenna, all at 2-1 in the WMC.
Montague visits Whitehall in Week 8 in what very well could serve as a de facto conference championship game.
On Friday, the Wildcats hurt the Eagles in the passing game and moved the ball effectively on the ground, too, in keeping the defense honest.
Montague senior Andrew Kooi was 13-of-20 passing for 173 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with junior Owen Petersen for 16 yards, Nichols for 19 yards and senior Colton Blankstrom for 16 yards. Nichols led the receiving corps with five catches for 93 yards.
Senior Dylan Everett had his third-straight 100-yard game, finishing with 116 yards and two TDs on 20 carries. He scored on runs of 16 and 2 yards.
Montague outgained Oakridge in total offense, 312-190.
“I’m just proud of our guys’ effort tonight. From the opening kickoff, they brought the energy and we were ready to go right away,” Dennett said. “We knew this was going to be a big one — our toughest conference game yet — and all week in practice our guys were locked in and ready to go, so I’m just proud of their effort.”
Montague led 14-0 early in the second quarter on Nichols TD reception from Kooi. Oakridge answered on Corey Vanderputte’s 1-yard scoring run on fourth-and-goal to pull within 14-7 with 4:11 left in the half.
However, the Wildcats responded in quick fashion – four plays, covering 67 yards, capped by Everett’s first TD run on a drive that required only 1:25 of game time. That gave the hosts a 20-7 lead with 2:40 remaining in the first half, and they cruised the rest of the way.
“We weren’t really sure what they were going to play defensively because they did a couple things their first two weeks and they came out in something different than we thought it would be,” Dennett said. “But it’s just part of our offense. It’s the quarterback read and (Kooi) made the right decision. We had numbers (in the passing game) and he threw it and our skilled guys made amazing plays.”
John Greiner led the Montague defense with nine tackles. Hayden McDonald made seven solo stops, including a sack, while Silas Jancek and Blankstrom also notched seven tackles apiece.
Vanderputte led Oakridge with 62 rushing yards on 18 carries. Matt Danicek was 5-of-14 passing for 41 yards with an interception for the Eagles, who were idle last week and picked up a forfeit win against Mason County Central.
“Hindsight (is) 20/20, I think (the week off did play a factor) a little bit,” Oakridge coach Cary Harger said. “We tried to keep it energetic and pare down practices and just stay focused on some of the essentials. Maybe not having a game last week affected us mentally to the point where our intensity wasn’t where it should have been.”
Trevor Jones and Noah McFadden paced Oakridge’s defense with eight tackles each, while Brenden Raymond and Riley Bean had seven stops apiece.
Next week, Montague hosts Ravenna, while Oakridge welcomes Hart.
“Oh, gosh, this team, we’ve been through everything. We’ve been through the hardest loss — very first game of the season (against Edwardsburg), it was the hardest loss — and then we just battled back through everything. Playing against Oakridge, they’re one heck of a team. They’re the best team we’ll probably see all year, I feel like,” said Montague senior lineman Aaron Rolf, whose stepdad, Bob Darke, died unexpectedly last week. The Wildcats hung Darke’s old No. 53 Wildcats football jersey on the fence near their sideline in memory of him.
Rolf also lost a grandmother and grandfather recently.
“This one’s for Bob, man. He was at every game for me since I was in eighth grade. He’s always been there, he’s always been the one at the games who cheered me on the most, he’s the one that pushed me the most with everything. It means the world. I can’t explain it.”
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September 18, 2021 at 10:14 am
Great coverage of the Montague game last night. Not one ‘freeze’ during coverage and loved being able to watch from our home in Gaylord, without missing a single play. 200 times better than previous coverage.
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