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On the Mark: Playoffs are here, and it’s getting serious in Muskegon-area football picks

For the competing teams, it’s win or pack up the equipment for the season. For CatchMark pickers, it’s also go time.

Warm-up time is over.

It’s playoff time in the high school football season. That means it’s go time in our CatchMark “On the Mark” Muskegon-area football picks.

I’ve closed the gap on colleague Zach Zweigle, whose lead atop the overall standings has been trimmed to two games. Unfortunately, he copied my picks again, so there’s no chance to catch him – this week, anyway. (He’ll certainly deny these nasty accusations. I’ll give him a pass, but this is the last one!)

Guest picker is Brent Raeth, managing partner for CatchMark Technologies. He might be a bit of a Montague homer (he’s an alumnus, and his sons are Montague students), but he’s proven capable of being pretty level-headed in his sports analysis. (Here’s a good place for a shameless plug on our playoff podcast recorded Tuesday.)

Without further ado, here are the CatchMark crew’s first-round playoff picks for games involving Muskegon-area teams:

(Graphic by Zach Zweigle | CatchMark)

INTRIGUING MATCHUPS

North Muskegon (4-5) at Ravenna (6-3), 7 p.m. Friday: This Division 7 first-round playoff matchup between West Michigan Conference rivals has been selected the CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week.

It’s a rematch from Week 7, when Ravenna defeated North Muskegon at Fred Jacks Memorial Field, 17-6. In that game, junior Hunter Hogan accounted for all of the Bulldogs’ points on a rushing touchdown, receiving TD, two PATs and a field goal. Also in that game, Norsemen freshman quarterback James Young suffered a season-ending collarbone fracture.

Most teams are dealing with injuries this time of year, but both North Muskegon and Ravenna have had some key players on the bench. In addition to Young, junior running back/backup QB Denny Belmonte separated his shoulder and looks to be done for the season. For Ravenna, senior running back/safety Thomas McCullough has battled injuries, but he’s back, while sophomore receiver/linebacker Drew Mabrito could return this week after suffering a broken hand.

North Muskegon-Ravenna really has been a great series. Since 1961, each team has won 29 games in the rivalry. Look for it to continue, too, as the Norse and ’Dogs will be locking horns as small-school divisional opponents – very likely as frontrunners — in the expanded West Michigan Conference starting in the 2022-23 academic year.

Prediction: Ravenna 21, North Muskegon 14

Whitehall (7-2) at Sparta (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday: Before we get to the football part of things, here’s a veteran move: If you’re from Whitehall and looking to grab some grub before the game, check out Downtown Trini’s and Margarita Joe’s in Sparta. Great Mexican food. You will not be disappointed.

Anyway, back to this Division 4 first-round matchup. On paper, this looks to be one of the more exciting games of the weekend involving Muskegon-area teams. In some ways, these squads are mirror images. They have two common opponents: Both lost to Oakridge and rolled Ludington.

This will be the Vikings’ first game on turf this season. How will they look on the Spartans’ synthetic playing surface?

In a virtual toss-up, we’ll give the edge to Whitehall.

Prediction: Whitehall 27, Sparta 26

Mona Shores (7-2) at Forest Hills Central (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday: The Sailors and Rangers used to be OK Black Conference foes, but they’ve since gone their separate ways. But, man, their recent Division 2 playoff matchups sure have featured some drama.

Last season, Mona Shores held off a late, furious rally by FHC in stopping the Rangers at the 1-yard line as time expired. The 28-25 second-round victory was one of several tests the Sailors passed on the way to winning a second-straight state title.

In 2018, Mona Shores edged FHC in the first round at Sailor Stadium, 34-28, before making a run to the state finals. In 2017, the host Rangers defeated the Sailors, 28-21, in a heated district final.

Let’s just say, these teams play with an extra chip on the shoulder when they square off.

Prediction: Mona Shores 30, Forest Hills Central 28

Holton (5-4) at Muskegon Heights Academy (5-4), 1 p.m. Saturday: This Division 8 first-round matchup will be played in the same time slot as the Michigan-Michigan State and Muskegon-Lowell games.

This Red Devils-Tigers pairing is pretty intriguing, though. They’re excited in Muskegon Heights to be hosting a playoff game at Phillips Field, and they should be. Meanwhile, Holton is planning a community send-off for the team as the bus departs town around 11 a.m. Saturday and heads south to the Heights. No doubt, Holton supports its teams in a big way.

Holton and Muskegon Heights have to be hoping for a favorable forecast, as they both like to sling the ball around the field. The team that better establishes a running game might have an edge.

Prediction: Muskegon Heights 32, Holton 26

(Graphic by Zach Zweigle | CatchMark)

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

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