And then there were three.
Not only is that the title of the ninth studio album released by rock band Genesis in 1978, it applies to the number of Muskegon-area high school football teams remaining in the 2021 playoffs.
In this weekend’s regionals, Montague and Oakridge will be representing the West Michigan Conference, while Muskegon Catholic Central takes the spotlight in the CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week.
How will the local teams fare? How many will remain by mid-Saturday afternoon?
Here’s what our CatchMark SportsNet predictions crew is predicting. Guest picker this week is David Dusenberry, a local football fan who loves Montague but does his research:
Oakridge (9-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-0), 7 p.m. Friday: For the second straight season, Oakridge has rolled through Central State Activities Association Gold Division opponents in the early round of the playoffs. And for the second straight year, the Eagles’ reward is a Division 5 regional matchup with powerhouse Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
Last January – remember, the 2020 football season extended into the winter because of the COVID-19 stops and re-starts – Oakridge traveled to GRCC’s sparkling facility and left with a 58-7 defeat. The Cougars went on and rolled to a second-straight state championship, their fourth in five years.
Some GRCC names should be familiar and some have changed, but the Cougars have not skipped a beat. For example, Notre Dame commit Nolan Ziegler is back as a sideline-to-sideline, hard-hitting safety, who now is making plays all over the place as a pass-catcher. Meanwhile, four-year starting quarterback Joey Silveri was lost to a season-ending knee injury in Week 4, but John Passinault stepped in and has proven fully capable.
Oakridge has a few playmakers (led by Corey Vanderputte) and an enormous offensive line (anchored by Ethan Jozsa), but the Eagles will need to be at their very best to have any kind of chance against GRCC. That’s not a knock on Oakridge or the type of ball played in the West Michigan Conference, both of which are strong year in and year out; it’s just that GRCC’s program is in a class by itself when you’re talking Division 5 high school football.
Prediction: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42, Oakridge 14
Montague (8-3) at Lansing Catholic (10-1), 1 p.m. Saturday: This is a very familiar spot for Montague, although the Wildcats are facing an unfamiliar opponent in this Division 6 regional final.
It’s the fifth-straight regional finals appearance for reigning state champion Montague, which has won the last three such games. While the Wildcats certainly have done their share of scouting and homework on Lansing Catholic, it’s the first time they will have faced the Cougars.
Lansing Catholic captured the Division 5 state title in 2019 after being runner-up in 2011 and 2014, but the Cougars dropped down to Division 6 this season.
A mainstay from that championship team two years ago is talented receiver Alex Watters, who is now a senior. In the regular season alone (and in only eight games), Watters caught 53 passes for 866 yards and 13 touchdowns. Montague also will be contending with lineman Bo Poljan, a Northern Michigan University commit, who like Watters was first-team all-state last season. Poljan is the younger brother of former Lansing Catholic star QB Tony Poljan.
Per the experts, Montague is a clear underdog in this game. While Lansing Catholic has a very strong, tradition-rich program in its own right, it’s not on the level of, say, Grand Rapids Catholic Central. In other words, while the Wildcats have their work cut out for them, they’re not facing a seemingly insurmountable task like their West Michigan Conference brethren from Oakridge are up against. Montague expects to win big playoff games and, many times, the Wildcats do.
Prediction: Montague 28, Lansing Catholic 27
Muskegon Catholic Central (10-1) vs. Lawton (11-0), 7 p.m. Friday at Hackley Stadium: When this Division 7 regional finals matchup materialized, it piqued my interest – so much, I declared it the CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week.
Having grown up in the Muskegon area and knowing all about MCC’s tradition and mystique and having worked at the Kalamazoo Gazette for 13 years with Lawton in that coverage area, it’s fun to see these two programs square off again. They’ve met one other time, with MCC rolling 48-0 in a 2006 playoff opener.
For Lawton, this is about measuring up to one of the true heavyweights of small-school football and doing it on a bigger stage than the Blue Devils are accustomed. This is Lawton’s first regional finals appearance in program history. The Blue Devils have been on the rise in recent years, and this by far appears to be their best team yet.
MCC coach Steve Czerwon said Lawton is big and physical. And, of course, the Blue Devils feature stud running back Jake Rueff, who has rushed for a ton of yards and scored gazillion touchdowns (2,029 yards and 45 TDs, to be exact).
Lawton caught my attention in Week 6, when the Blue Devils beat traditionally strong Montrose in a track meet, 69-40. Lawton hanging nearly 70 on Montrose makes you do a double-take. On the flip side, the Blue Devils allowed 40 points to a team that didn’t get out of the first round of the Division 7 playoffs, as the Rams lost a rematch with New Lothrop (34-7).
Impressive as Lawton may be, I believe MCC to be more battle-tested. Additionally, MCC’s staff has coached (and played) in so many of these big games, the Crusaders should be well-prepared to get this done. And, finally, the fast track at Hackley Stadium should give them an advantage with their team speed.
Prediction: Muskegon Catholic Central 28, Lawton 22
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