MONTAGUE – After playing a most unusual season amid the coronavirus pandemic last year and coming out the other side with a state championship, Montague’s football players should be ready for just about anything now.
The host Wildcats took everything Ravenna could throw at them on homecoming and senior night Friday, and they held on for a 14-7 victory in a hard-fought, physical West Michigan Conference battle and CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week.
Montague used two first-half goal-line stands and a late defensive stop to preserve the win and stay unbeaten atop the league standings at 4-0 (4-1 overall). Whitehall and Oakridge both have one loss in conference play. Ravenna slips 1-2 and 3-2, respectively.
“Ravenna always plays us tough at home. I remember sophomore year, we came in on homecoming and ended up losing. It was a tough game, lots of turnovers,” Montague senior running back Dylan Everett said. “And then in the playoffs, we came back and beat them – still lots of turnovers. They always play us tough at home.”
Everett was referring to Montague’s two matchups with Ravenna during the 2019 season. The Bulldogs defeated a sloppy Wildcats team on homecoming night in Week 6, 17-7, before the ’Cats earned vengeance against the ’Dogs in the district finals in a 20-13 overtime win at home.
On Friday, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Everett shouldered the load. “Housecat” finished with a season-high 31 carries for 166 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7 with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
“It was a little exhausting, but it was fun,” said Everett, who stayed down on the field for a moment near the Ravenna sideline in the second half, feeling the physical toll of the game.
“I jammed my finger and I pinched a nerve and my calves cramped up – I was a bit of a mess over there,” Everett said with a chuckle.
Ravenna stunned the home crowd by taking an early 7-0 lead following a Montague muffed punt. Bulldogs senior quarterback Kyle Beebe scored on a 6-yard run to put his team ahead less than five minutes into the contest.
The Wildcats took the lead with 5:11 left in the first half on senior QB Andrew Kooi’s 26-yard scoring pass to senior Tugg Nichols.
The defense did the rest. Ravenna held an edge over Montague in several areas — total plays (69-53), total yards (274-249), rushing yards (218-193) and first downs (14-11) – but the Wildcats made the stops and key plays when they counted.
Montague made two goal-line stands in the second quarter. On the first one, Ravenna had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, but could not get into the end zone. On the second one, the Bulldogs moved to the Wildcats’ 3 with 9 seconds left in the half, but both of their passing attempts fell incomplete and time ran out.
“That’s the game-changer right there, just being able to keep them out of the end zone when it was fourth-and-goal and those goal-line stands,” Montague coach Justin Dennett said. “That was what it came down to and our defense won us that game.”
Ravenna senior Thomas McCullough led his team with 104 rushing yards on 15 carries. He also caught three passes for 20 yards. Beebe was 10-of-20 passing for 72 yards.
Senior Grant Becklin led the ’Dogs defensively with 6 ½ tackles, while senior Zeke Thompson made six stops and picked off a pass. Senior Brandon McFarren notched five tackles.
Kooi was 6-of-11 passing for 56 yards. Juniors Izac Jarka and Chase Gowell paced the Wildcats on defense with eight tackles apiece. Everett and Nichols registered five stops apiece for Montague, which has now outscored conference opponents a combined 117-14.
For Ravenna, Friday’s effort showed a vast improvement from its performance two weeks earlier at Whitehall, where the game was competitive early but got away in a 42-0 defeat.
Bulldogs second-year coach Justin Ego said he’s not into moral victories, but he was extremely proud of the fight his team showed against Montague.
“That’s the defending state champions. We went toe-to-toe, had opportunities to win and kind of let them slip away,” Ego said. “But now, I told them, ‘You guys know that you can compete with anybody that you’re playing.’
“It doesn’t matter what I believe; it matters what they believe. As long as they get that confidence and that little swagger, which I want them to have, I think going forward I think now they can see, ‘Hey, we can compete with people.’”
Montague first-year coach Justin Dennett gave full credit to Ravenna. He said the Bulldogs had a very good game plan and attacked the Wildcats well.
Dennett warned his team that Ravenna’s Whitehall score was misleading. He gave kudos to the Bulldogs’ coaching staff and was relieved to come out with the win in a “tough, physical football game.”
“I think that’s good for our guys to go through that, to have to play in those tight situations and come out with a win there,” said Dennett, whose previous three conference games were won 35-0 over North Muskegon, 35-0 over Hart and 33-7 against Oakridge.
“That’s going to really pay dividends for us in the long run.”
It’s a little unusual having senior night in Week 5, but that was the final home game of the regular season for Montague.
The Wildcats’ Week 7 spot in the schedule had been a home game against Mason County Central, but the Spartans decided not to play Montague, Oakridge or Whitehall this season. Montague was still looking to fill that Week 7 opening, which comes a week before the showdown at rival Whitehall.
Montague could still earn one home game or more in the playoffs.
“We want to come back here in the playoffs. That would be awesome,” Everett said.
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