The 2023 MHSAA football playoffs have arrived. Coaches have referred to it as “the second season.”
Every game in a season matters, but this is the time of year that gets me the most fired up.
It’s a five-week race to the state championship.
Division 4 top-ranked Whitehall has been eagerly awaiting this opportunity. The Vikings had a legitimate shot at winning it all last season but lost a 28-21 regional finals heartbreaker against eventual state champion Grand Rapids South Christian. That feeling has eaten at players and coaches for a whole year.
For a team like North Muskegon, which finished tied for the No. 1 spot in Division 7 with defending state champ and perennial power Jackson Lumen Christi, this is a chance for the Norsemen to show what they can do. They want to make amends for last year’s first-round playoff exit, but their goals are bigger, too,
The road is never easy, especially when you’re a No. 1 team. You get everybody’s best shot.
Jordan Durga knows how that feels. He led our “On the Mark” panelists all season until last week’s picks, when yours truly overtook him for the top spot. The race is far from over, however. In my opinion, it’s just starting. Bill O’Connell is right there and Cal VanSingel is lurking not too far behind.
Our guest picker this week knows quite a bit about football despite his age in relation to the rest of us old dudes on the panel. Myles Welch, a Whitehall junior and CatchMark SportsNut, takes a shot at the first-round playoff picks.
Here are “On the Mark” picks for Week 10, or the first round of the playoffs, for games involving West Michigan Conference and Greater Muskegon area teams:
DIVISION 4: Allendale (6-3) at Whitehall (9-0), 7 p.m. Friday: Some say this will be the toughest opponent Whitehall has faced to this point. Hastings may have something to say about that, but Allendale certainly is battle-tested coming from the challenging OK Blue Conference.
The Falcons, coached by former Grant head coach Darren Geraghty, were blown out by Grand Rapids West Catholic (56-6) but played tight games with Spring Lake (35-28) and Coopersville (24-21) in their other two losses.
The one common opponent is Hudsonville Unity Christian. Whitehall defeated Unity Christian in the opener at home (34-28) in a game where cramping took a toll, while Allendale rolled past Unity (47-20) two weeks ago on the road.
It would be wise for Whitehall to avoid looking ahead and keep focus squarely on this game.
Prediction: Whitehall 42, Allendale 21
DIVISION 5: Oakridge (6-3) at Belding (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday: This is a rematch of last year’s district final, won 30-8 by Oakridge at Russell A. Erickson Stadium. These teams also recently squared off in the 2019 season opener (Oakridge 29-17 victory) and in a 2018 playoff opener (Oakridge 59-29 victory).
Oakridge has been playing some good football since falling 48-7 at Whitehall in Week 6. The Eagles won their final three regular-season games over Orchard View, Ravenna, and Montague in convincing fashion.
Belding’s lone loss of the season came in Week 2 at Spring Lake, 34-28. That was during Spring Lake’s string of three straight 34-28 victories to begin the season, including the opener at Montague.
Common opponent is Sparta: Oakridge won on the road in the opener (27-15), while Belding won in Week 6 at home (38-19).
I’ve been doing this long enough to know, don’t bet against Oakridge, especially in the early rounds of the playoffs. I may regret this pick.
Prediction: Belding 30, Oakridge 28
DIVISION 6: Kent City (7-2) at Hart (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday: Hart has earned its way into the playoffs for the first time in school history, and the Pirates are playing at home to boot.
Two years ago, in Hart coach Joe Tanis’ first season at the helm, the Pirates beat visiting Kent City in a Week 2 game (30-22). On Monday’s CatchMark SportsNet Podcast, Tanis said that was a game Hart “had no business winning.”
Hart’s program is in a much different spot two years later. The Pirates are equipped to win a matchup such as this.
Quite honestly, it would be a letdown if Hart didn’t win this game, given the pomp and circumstance.
Prediction: Hart 30, Kent City 20
DIVISION 6: Montague (4-5) at Reed City (6-3), 7 p.m. Friday: This is the third straight season these teams have met in a district matchup at Reed City. Two years ago, Montague pulled away for a 35-22 district finals win. Last season, Reed City ran away with a 44-15 playoff-opening victory.
Reed City struggled to a 1-3 start to the season, while Montague was 2-4 at one point. The Coyotes are riding a six-game winning streak, while the Wildcats have been seeking consistency all season.
Montague getting in the playoffs with a losing record for the second straight season illustrates the Wildcats’ strength of schedule. You can’t count out the ‘Cats — it just depends which version shows up.
Prediction: Reed City 28, Montague 24
DIVISION 7: Union City (6-3) at North Muskegon (9-0), 1 p.m. Saturday: North Muskegon opted to hold this game on Saturday afternoon as opposed to the traditional Friday night.
It could benefit the Norsemen, as Saturday’s forecast looks more favorable than Friday’s, especially for a team that likes to toss the ball around the yard. Union City is making a two-hour trip, so maybe Saturday is better for the Chargers, too.
Nothing is given in the playoffs, but this should be a favorable matchup for North Muskegon. Like Whitehall, however, it would behoove the Norsemen to focus on the task at hand and resist the tempation to look ahead to a potential district finals matchup with the Lawton-Schoolcraft winner.
Prediction: North Muskegon 42, Union City 14
PREDICTING THE REST
Division 2: Reeths-Puffer 20, Mona Shores 14 (7 p.m. Friday at Mona Shores)
Division 2: Muskegon 40, Forest Hills Northern 14 (7 p.m. Friday at Muskegon)
Division 4: Spring Lake 34, Big Rapids 28 (7 p.m. Friday at Spring Lake)
Division 6: Manistee 42, Lake City 14 (7 p.m. Friday at Manistee)
Division 6: Kingsley 50, Mason County Central 6 (7 p.m. Friday at Kingsley)
Division 8: Muskegon Catholic Central 26, Evart 20 (7 p.m. Friday at Evart)
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