MONTAGUE – Montague’s football program has reached a status where the Wildcats should never have to prove themselves.
Yet, that’s how the seniors felt during the 2021 season, which came to an end last Saturday in a 31-13 loss at top-ranked Lansing Catholic in the Division 6 regional finals.
Montague closes the campaign with an 8-4 record. That makes the Wildcats 30-7 over the last three years, including a 12-0 run to the state title in 2020.
In the last four seasons, they Wildcats have gone 41-10 with two trips to Ford Field.
“This year, people were doubting us. They thought we weren’t going to be anything because we lost so many seniors, so many great players,” Montague senior lineman Hayden McDonald said. “But we came out, we had a great season.
“We got a district championship, share of the conference. We did a great job. I think we proved ’em wrong.”
Montague captured a share of the West Michigan Conference championship, alongside neighboring rival Whitehall and Oakridge. The Wildcats rolled past the Eagles, 33-7, in Week 4 and fell to the Vikings, 34-14, in Week 8.
Montague rebounded from losses in the final two weeks of the regular season to earn a fifth-straight district title, capped with a 35-22 road win over Reed City.
Among the Wildcats’ four losses this season, three came against teams still playing as the postseason moves to the semifinal round on Saturday: Division 4 Edwardsburg, Division 5 Portland and Division 6 Lansing Catholic.
First-year head coach Justin Dennett stepped into a pressure-filled situation, taking over for highly successful Pat Collins, who guided the Wildcats to three state titles. But Dennett kept things rolling and the players accepted him as one of their own.
“It’s always tough to see the seniors after their last game. This group has a ton to be proud of and they’ve accomplished so much. That might make it a little easier but, still, in that moment, when it’s over, it’s just tough,” Dennett said during Montague’s final Coaches Corner show of the season, recorded Monday night in the CatchMark studio.
“You just talk about how much they’ve meant to me and the coaching staff and remind them of what they accomplished and the relationships they’ve built with their teammates and that’s what it’s all about.”
Senior leader Tugg Nichols wore his emotions on his sleeve at all times, but especially in crouching to the field at the end of the loss to Lansing Catholic.
Mid-Saturday afternoon, vertical lines cut through the eye black on both of Nichols’ cheeks, where tears had fallen. By Monday’s Coaches Corner show, on which he was a guest, Nichols was in a reflective mood.
“It’s really hard to let it go, for sure. The last four years have definitely been the best four years of my life so far, I’d say,” he said. “You have to let go of some good things, you know. All good things come to an end, people say. You’ve just got to learn to move on.”
Following Saturday’s game, Nichols said that the brotherhood in Montague’s program is “amazing.”
Nichols will miss his teammates, and he said he’ll miss being coached by “some oof the best coaches in West Michigan.”
McDonald seconded the notion that the best part of the run with Montague is the relationships formed.
“The best part was just the friendships – just meeting all these new coaches, players, having a relationship with all of them,” McDonald said. “It was amazing.”
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