High school football is back!
Just when you thought the news couldn’t get any better, CatchMark SportsNet’s “On the Mark” weekly predictions column also has returned for another season.
We’re going all in on the West Michigan Conference. The weekly picks will be focusing on games involving teams from the expanded conference, which has gone from eight to 14 member schools.
Each week, seven regular panelists and one guest picker will make their selections. CSN lead writer Scott DeCamp will be taking it one or more steps further, predicting scores for each game and providing a little analysis for the biggest games in the league in that given week. He went 99-21 (82.5 percent) in predicting outcomes last season, so that’s not too shabby.
Enough about him. Let’s introduce our panelists.
Billy Mann, senior media specialist for CatchMark, joins DeCamp as the lone returning panelists. We have acquired a lot of new talent to our crew of pickers: Cal VanSingel, Jon Russell, Mike Taylor, Bethany McCullough and Tate Stine.
We’ll also feature a guest picker each week. Brent Raeth, CatchMark managing partner, kicks it off for us as the Week 1 guest.
Before we dive into this week’s predictions, we’d like to thank our sponsors for their support: Big Stone Therapies, VanDyk Mortgage, Durga Insurance Group, Foundation Systems of Michigan, Chris Dykema-Sarah Riehl Greenridge, Greve Law, North Grove Brewers, David Dusenberry Coldwell Banker and Scheid Plumbing, Heating & Cooling.
Whitehall vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian, 7 p.m. Thursday at Jenison: To say expectations are high for Whitehall this season is a gross understatement. The Vikings appear to have all the tools they need to make this a very special season and they’re going to find out right away where they stand.
Whitehall opens against Unity Christian, 2021 Division 4 state runner-up and one of the finest programs in West Michigan. Next week, the Vikings will take on a Hastings squad that’s also projected to be very good. Both of those games are on the road.
For now, Whitehall’s focus is on Unity Christian. This is the first-ever matchup between these programs. Traditionally, the Crusaders are a disciplined, well-oiled machine. There’s no reason to expect anything less from them this season, even though they were hit with heavy graduation losses. On the flip side, the Vikings return a strong nucleus from last year’s squad that earned a share of the West Michigan Conference title.
Whitehall will have to stay disciplined, especially against Unity’s wing-T, but the Vikings get it done and set the tone for their season.
Prediction: Whitehall 30, Unity Christian 28
Montague at Spring Lake, 7 p.m. Thursday: Montague underwent a coaching transition last season, as Justin Dennett took the reins from Pat Collins after the Wildcats captured their program’s third state title. It was a strong debut season for Dennett, whose team finished 8-4 overall and came away with a Division 6 district title and share of the West Michigan Conference crown.
It was Spring Lake’s turn for a coaching change this offseason. Cody Mallory, who was highly successful at Cadillac, including a run to the 2020 Division 4 state finals, is now at the helm for the Lakers. Where will he guide this program? We’re about to find out.
Montague features a good group of seniors, including an experienced and talented nucleus of guys who either started or played key roles on the Wildcats’ state championship team two years ago.
There is always a degree of mystery around the start of a new season, but the aforementioned veterans help push the Wildcats over the top in this one.
Prediction: Montague 26, Spring Lake 20
Sparta at Oakridge, 7 p.m. Thursday: Oakridge won a nail-biter at Sparta in last year’s season opener, 22-21. Both programs went on to nice seasons – the Eagles were 9-3, won another Division 5 district championship and came away with a share of the West Michigan Conference title; meanwhile, the Spartans finished 7-3.
Oakridge and Sparta are both anticipating strong seasons again. (What else is new for Oakridge, right?)
Sparta was 0-2 against the West Michigan Conference last season, as the Spartans’ season ended with a 40-20 home loss to Whitehall in the first round of the Division 4 playoffs.
It should be another well-contested clash with Oakridge, but you have to give the Eagles the edge here.
Prediction: Oakridge 24, Sparta 21
North Muskegon vs. Muskegon Catholic Central, 4 p.m. Friday at Hackley Stadium: North Muskegon is giving up a home game here, but it should be well worth it. The Norsemen taking on perennial power Muskegon Catholic Central on the big stage is a great way to start the season.
North Muskegon and MCC are squaring off in the matinee of the two-game Hackley Stadium Showcase, which features host Muskegon vs. East Kentwood in the 7 p.m. nightcap.
Last season, injuries hampered the Norse, who despite those setbacks continued to scrap. They played tough in a 27-13 season-opening loss at MCC with then-freshman James Young at the QB controls.
Young saw his season end prematurely with a collar-bone injury, but he’s back – bigger, stronger and even more confident.
This one has the makings of a dandy. It’s always a challenge to prepare for and play the Crusaders.
Prediction: North Muskegon 28, Muskegon Catholic Central 24
Beal City at Ravenna, 7 p.m. Friday: Ravenna turned some heads in last year’s season opener with a 21-20 road win over a Beal City team that did not lose again until the Division 8 state finals.
The Bulldogs might have a few more question marks entering the 2022 campaign, but they do have some speed in the skilled positions.
If the ’Dogs are able to earn a victory here, then it should provide a good springboard into their season. Beating Beal City is no small task, however, even on your home field.
Prediction: Ravenna 22, Beal City 20
Holton at Manistee, 7 p.m. Friday, CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week: Holton recently announced that it would indeed field a varsity football team after weeks of uncertainty based upon participation numbers.
It only gets better for the Red Devils, who are in the spotlight in our Game of the Week against fellow West Michigan Conference newcomer Manistee. You can watch a free livestream of the game on the CatchMark SportsNet YouTube channel.
Manistee might have a little too much for Holton in this one. Regardless of what happens, we’re looking forward to highlighting the matchup and these teams.
Prediction: Manistee 34, Holton 20
MORE SCORE PREDICTIONS
(At) Petoskey 26, Ludington 22 (6 p.m. Thursday)
(At) Reed City 30, Orchard View 20 (7 p.m. Thursday)
Fremont 24, (at) Hart 20 (7 p.m. Friday)
(At) Shelby 34, White Cloud 26 (7 p.m. Friday)
Frankfort 27, (at) Mason County Central 22 (7 p.m. Friday)
Manton 24, (at) Hesperia 18 (7 p.m. Friday)
/ 7 hours ago
Savanna Owens, Abby Pretty continue to push as Pirates seek a record sixth straight...
/ 1 day ago
Take a trip around the league in Week 5.
/ 1 day ago
Orioles wipe out 14-0 halftime deficit to post 34-14 win in their home opener.