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Muskegon-area football playoffs kick off: Sizing up matchups, announcing Game of Week

Five teams from the West Michigan Conference will be taking the field Friday.

We’re moving into the second season for Michigan high school football: It’s playoff time.

Five West Michigan Conference teams march on as postseason qualifiers. All five of them play in first-round playoff games this Friday.

Here, we show the Muskegon-area schedule in a graphic, then break down each of the matchups in greater detail:

(Graphic by Zach Zweigle | CatchMark)

CATCHMARK SPORTSNET GAME OF THE WEEK

North Muskegon (4-5) at Ravenna (6-3), 7 p.m. Friday

This Division 7 first-round playoff matchup pits West Michigan Conference rivals – past, present and future.

The all-time series between the Norsemen and Bulldogs is tied at 29. Surprisingly, this will be their first-ever meeting in the playoffs. In the postseason, Ravenna is 38-18 all-time, while North Muskegon is 11-19.

In Week 7 this season, the Bulldogs defeated the host Norsemen, 17-6, as junior Hunter Hogan accounted for all 17 points. Hogan scored touchdowns rushing and receiving, plus he kicked a field goal and booted two PATs.

North Muskegon punched its playoff ticket with a 25-0 home win over Ludington in Week 9. Ravenna solidified the first-round home playoff game with a 55-19 victory over Central Montcalm last Friday.

In recent weeks, the Norsemen have lost starting quarterback James Young and starting running back/backup QB Denny Belmonte to injuries. Third-string QB Ben Meyers powered the Norse past the Orioles on Friday.

Ravenna football players and coaches watch their game against Mason County Central from the sideline as the sun sets on the horizon at Citizens Field Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, in Ravenna, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

DIVISION 2

Mona Shores (7-2) at Forest Hills Central (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday

The two-time defending Division 2 state champion Sailors and the Rangers have developed a good rivalry in recent years. Last season, Mona Shores held on for a 28-25 second-round playoff victory as FHC’s late rally ended at the 1-yard line as the final seconds ticked off the clock. This is a very tough district, as OK Red runner-up Caledonia (8-1) takes on Byron Center (7-2) in the other game.

DIVISION 3

Lowell (4-5) at Muskegon (8-1), 1 p.m. Saturday

The Muskegon-Lowell rivalry has been a dandy over the years. The series is tied 5-5 all-time. The last meeting was a bit contentious, as the Big Reds fell 36-7 on the Red Arrows’ mucky grass field in the 2015 Division 2 regional final. In a postgame media interview, Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield suggested that Lowell intentionally muddied its field by practicing on it leading up to the game, slowing down the speedy Big Reds. This Saturday’s game will be played on the fast track of the Hackley Stadium AstroTurf. The winner of this matchup faces the Cedar Springs-Coopersville winner.

DIVISION 4

Whitehall (7-2) at Sparta (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday

Whitehall has played Sparta one other time, falling to the Spartans in a 2011 Division 4 first-round playoff game, 25-18.

Vikings coach Tony Sigmon has faced Spartans coach Mark Chapman before, however. In 2014, Whitehall defeated Chapman-coached Comstock Park, 41-36, in a Division 4 district finals thriller.

“We’re excited to play Sparta. Their coach, we’ve had some experience playing against him specifically. He was the head coach at Comstock Park in 2014 and we know that he’s a first-class guy and he runs a first-class program,” Sigmon said.

Whitehall and Sparta have two common opponents: Oakridge and Ludington. Whitehall fell to Oakridge, 32-19, in Week 2 and beat Ludington 49-0 in Week 6. Sparta lost to Oakridge in the season opener, 22-21, and beat Ludington, 41-3, in Week 2.

“Had an opportunity to watch a little Sparta film this year because they played Oakridge in one of their first games, so we were able to get that trade film. He’s got an excellent football team. That was very evident watching film, so it’s going to a great matchup. It’s going to be a good game,” Sigmon said.

The winner of this game will face the victor of Fruitport (4-5) and host Cadillac (7-2), which was in the Division 4 state finals last season.

“In our district, I believe almost every team is 7-2 and have a very respectable schedule,” Sigmon said. “I know that we’re going into Week 10 and we will be playing seven playoff teams now. I know our schedule is tough, and I also know with the caliber of the Grand Rapids schools that Sparta plays, their schedule has been tough as well.

“And, likewise, obviously when it comes to Cadillac playing the Traverse City schools and Fruitport to tack on there as well. You know, excellent football programs all around and well-represented in their own rights.”

Spring Lake (6-3) at Grand Rapids Christian (6-3), 7 p.m. Friday

This is only the second time Spring Lake has faced Grand Rapids Christian. In the 1984 season opener, the Lakers fell to the Eagles, 14-0. Spring Lake has faced a challenging schedule in the OK Blue, taking on the likes of Unity Christian, West Catholic and Coopersville. Grand Rapids Christian has been tested, too, having faced South Christian, Unity Christian, East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills Central and Byron Center. The Lakers have lost three of their last four games. The Eagles have won seven of their last seven, with the lone defeat coming in a 35-28 setback to Forest Hills Central. The winner of this one faces the Unity Christian-Forest Hills Eastern winner.

Fruitport (4-5) at Cadillac (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday

This is a rematch of a Week 2 game at Fruitport, where Cadillac came away with a 28-12 victory. Cadillac leads the all-time series with Fruitport, 3-2. The Trojans started the season 1-4 with the loss to the Vikings and a front-loaded OK Blue schedule, but they rebounded with three-straight wins to put themselves in position to earn playoff berth. Fruitport’s 22-14 win over Allendale in Week 8 might’ve been the clincher. The Trojans lost to powerhouse Unity Christian in Week 9. Cadillac’s two losses have come against Traverse City Central and Traverse City West; the Vikings have good wins over Reed City and Portland. Winner of this matchup faces the Whitehall-Sparta victor.

DIVISION 5

Big Rapids (5-4) at Oakridge (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday

This is the second straight year these teams have met in the playoffs. Last season, Oakridge defeated Big Rapids, 41-20, in a Division 5 second-round playoff game. The Eagles have been a tricky team to figure. They notched very nice wins in their first two games against Sparta and Whitehall, then the bottom dropped out in a Week 4 loss at Montague. Oakridge edged North Muskegon and Ravenna, then saw a 12-point fourth-quarter lead vanish in Friday’s 30-28 loss to Muskegon Catholic Central. Big Rapids enters on a two-game skid. Winner of this game faces the Grant-Howard City Tri County winner.

Grant (4-5) at Howard City Tri County (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday

These teams are well-familiar with each other as members of the Central State Activities Association Gold Division. In Week 4 this season, Tri County rolled past Grant, 40-14. The Vikings finished runner-up behind Reed City in the CSAA Gold standings. The Tigers, meanwhile, earned their playoff bid in a 19-0 home win Friday over Kent City, which also was playing for a playoff spot. The Grant-Tri County series, at least dating back to 1950, has been competitive: The Tigers hold a 30-27-2 edge during that span. The winner of this game faces the winner between Oakridge and Big Rapids.

DIVISION 6

Central Montcalm (5-4) at Montague (6-3), 7 p.m. Friday

Montague opens its defense of the Division 6 state championship with a home game against Central Montcalm, which is coming off a 55-19 loss at Ravenna. This is the first-ever meeting between Montague and Central Montcalm.

The Wildcats, one of three champions in the West Michigan Conference, were able to secure a home playoff game despite having three losses and it’s because of the tough schedule they play. Montague has never been afraid to schedule tough nonleague opponents, and even though the Wildcats lost to Edwardsburg and Portland – Division 4 and 5 powerhouses, respectively – they are better for it.

Should Montague defeat Central Montcalm, the Wildcats likely will be headed to Reed City for a district final. Reed City hosts Manistee in the first round. Looking beyond that, a potential matchup with Lansing Catholic looms in the regional for Montague.

“I feel pretty good about it. It’s looking at the first-round game and then districts and regionals, you’re going to play a lot of tough teams and you’ve got to play everybody eventually, so you know we feel pretty good with the draw,” Montague coach Justin Dennett said. “Like I said, we’re going to run into everybody at some point anyways. Not really looking past Central Montcalm, just going to take them on first and go from there.”

Central Montcalm started the season 3-0 and won four its first five games before the Hornets hit the meat of their schedule. They’ve lost three of their last four – Reed City, Tri County and Ravenna.

“I was able to kind of see that film and see some of their other scores that they played,” Dennett said about the Hornets. “You know, they’re a physical team. I met their coach before – being from Greenville, it’s in the same county over there, so I know them a little bit and what they’re about.”

DIVISION 7

Delton Kellogg (5-3) at Muskegon Catholic Central (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday

This is the first-ever meeting between Muskegon Catholic Central and Delton Kellogg. MCC is coming off a thrilling 30-28 victory at Oakridge in the CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week. The Crusaders trailed 28-16 in the fourth quarter before mounting a late rally. Joe Waller’s 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal with 12 seconds left and his ensuing two-point conversion made the difference. Delton’s losses this season have come against Parchment (42-24), Constantine (40-6) and Schoolcraft (31-6). The winner of this game faces the North Muskegon-Ravenna victor.

DIVISION 8

Holton (5-4) at Muskegon Heights Academy (5-4), 1 p.m. Saturday

This is Muskegon Heights’ first playoff appearance since 2010, around the time coach Van Parker Jr. suited up for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Holton is in the postseason for the third time in four years, but it’s the first appearance for new head coach Alex Smith. Weather permitting, this game has the potential for some offensive fireworks, as both teams like to throw the ball around the field. The last time these programs squared off was in 2004, when Holton pulled off a 38-32 win. Heights leads the series, 3-1. The winner of this game faces the victor between Carson City-Crystal and White Cloud.

White Cloud (4-5) at Carson City-Crystal (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday

This is the fourth all-time playoff appearance for White Cloud, which got in despite losing its final three games and five of its last six. The Indians’ four victories this season are the most for the program since 2003. Carson City-Crystal has been a playoff regular since 2012 with eight appearances in the last 10 seasons. The Eagles’ lone loss this season came in Week 7 against Breckenridge, 12-0. CCC is coached by Tim Swore, who faced Montague and Ravenna in recent history as Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian’s coach. The winner of this one faces the Holton-Muskegon Heights winner.

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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