It’s “Battle for the Bell” week, everybody.
When football teams from Montague (2-1) and Whitehall (3-0) square off at 7 p.m. this Friday at Montague’s Townsend Athletic Complex, it will mark the 117th meeting in one of the state’s oldest rivalries.
Montague leads the all-time series vs. Whitehall, 64-50-2, but since 1950 the series has been a little tighter with the Wildcats holding a 41-38 edge over the Vikings.
In 2021, Whitehall wrestled the bell away from Montague for the first time in seven years with a 34-14 victory. The Vikings strengthened their grip on the bell in 2022 in a 60-6 statement win. In a scheduling quirk, both of those games in 2021 and 2022 were played at Whitehall.
The last time these programs squared off at Montague, in 2020, they delivered one of the most exciting games you’ll ever see. Montague held off Whitehall, 34-31 in double overtime, which proved to be the Wildcats’ toughest game en route to their unbeaten run to the Division 6 state championship.
This is the golden era of Whitehall football. The Vikings are talented, physical, and confident. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games, the lone loss coming in 28-21 heartbreak fashion to eventual state champion Grand Rapids South Christian in last year’s Division 4 regional finals.
Montague has held the upper hand over Whitehall throughout the series history, but the Wildcats had a hiccup with a 3-7 season last fall.
A different vibe seems to surround Montague this fall and things appear to be looking up. How much have the Wildcats improved? We’ll see Friday night as this will very likely be the toughest challenge Montague faces all season.
Speaking of challenges: That’s me (and everybody else) chasing Jordan Durga in our “On the Mark” weekly picks. He strengthened his hold on the overall lead with a 12-2 showing last week and improved to 36-12 on the season. My 10-4 record last week was “meh” and left me four games behind Jordan Durga at 32-16.
It’s not enough that he embarrasses me in our golf league — OK, maybe I embarrass myself — but that Durga guy shows me up in this space, too! (At least his brother, Justin Durga, is nice to me. His picks have been worse than mine.)
Last week’s guest picker, CatchMark managing partner Brent Raeth, finished with a 10-4 record. Guess great minds think alike, right Brent?
This week’s guest picker is Jon Honore: Owner of Complete Restoration & Cleaning Services (CatchMark SportsNet sponsor), big-time Whitehall supporter, and a social media legend. Did you see him celebrate with Vikings quarterback Kyle Stratton from the VIP tent after Stratton’s touchdown run last week? WATCH HERE.
Can Honore beat the Jordan Durga guy? Can Montague hang with Whitehall? Let’s find out.
Here are Week 4 picks for games involving West Michigan Conference and Greater Muskegon teams:
Whitehall (3-0, 0-0 WMC Lakes) at Montague (2-1, 1-0 WMC Lakes), 7 p.m. Friday: There may not be a greater collection of athletic ability and size at the wide receiver spot in West Michigan than what you’ll see in the “Battle for the Bell.”
On the Whitehall side, it’s senior Trannon Aylor (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) and junior Camden Thompson (6-5, 190), who is receiving Division I offers for football and basketball. On the Montague side, it’s seniors Paul Olson (6-2, 180) and Isaiah Atchison (6-8, 190), who is verbally committed to Central Michigan University.
Both teams feature productive running backs and dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks. Montague sophomore QB Mason Darke is an up-and-comer having a really nice season. Whitehall QB Kyle Stratton is a three-year starter playing at an all-state level.
With Stratton and the bevy of talent around him, plus Whitehall’s physicality and depth, you have to go with the Vikings in this one.
Prediction: Whitehall 50, Montague 28
Oakridge (1-2, 0-1 WMC Lakes) at Ludington (2-1, 1-0 WMC Lakes), 7 p.m. Friday: On paper, this appears to be perhaps the biggest toss-up of the night among West Michigan Conference games.
Oakridge is on a two-game losing streak after falling at home to Hudsonville Unity Christian (33-21) and Manistee (20-15) in games the Eagles had chances to win. It’s not often you’ll see Oakridge suffer a losing streak. In fact, the last time it happened was in 2004, when the Eagles started the season with three straight losses and finished 4-5 — their lone losing season since 1992.
Ludington, on the other hand, is feeling good. The Orioles are playing their fourth straight home game to kick off the season on their beautiful, new turf and they’re coming off back-to-back blowout victories. This will be a different challenge for Ludington than the previous two weeks, although the Orioles do have a shot.
Prediction: Oakridge 30, Ludington 24
(On a totally unrelated note, watch Oakridge coach Cary Harger lip-syncing “Ice Ice Baby” during the Eagles’ media-day session Wednesday night at CatchMark.)
Tanis is making everybody proud. Hart was ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press Michigan high school football rankings for Division 6.
The Pirates should be able to take care of business on this road trip. Next week, they host North Muskegon is what will be one of the bigger games in Hart football history.
Prediction: Hart 30, Stockbridge 20
Muskegon (1-2, 1-0 OK Green) at Mona Shores (2-1, 1-0 OK Green), 7 p.m. Friday: This is the first of what could be two meetings between the Big Reds and Sailors this season. Muskegon jumped up to Division 2 this season, joining Mona Shores in the loaded division.
Rockford is a common opponent for Muskegon and Mona Shores through their first three games. The Big Reds fell at home to the Rams, 27-7, in the season opener; the Sailors lost at home to the Rams the following week, 31-8. Rockford’s roster is at or just above 100 players, while Muskegon’s and Mona Shores’ are maybe a third of that.
Muskegon and Mona Shores are benchmark programs in the Muskegon area and beyond. The edge in this one goes to the Big Reds with three big three — M’khi Guy, Destin Pigee, and Jakob Price.
Prediction: Muskegon 34, Mona Shores 28
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