Photos by Kara Raeth
WHITEHALL — The coveted bell may not have been at stake, but Tuesday night’s boys soccer match between Whitehall and Montague had all the emotion and intensity that you might expect from arch rivals.
The Montague-Whitehall bell did make an appearance at the match, and so did the host Vikings’ offense in the second half of a 4-0 victory over the Wildcats.
The regular-season finale was scoreless at halftime before Whitehall unleashed a four-goal attack in the second half.
Rivalry season was in the air. First was a senior-night ceremony for the Whitehall seniors and their parents prior to kickoff. Next, a good portion of Montague’s football team joined the crowd as fans, bell in hand, to cheer on their fellow Wildcats. Whitehall’s football squad followed suit and formed a solid student section of its own, as cheers and healthy banter created an intense atmosphere.
“The first half was played like a standard Whitehall-Montague game,” Whitehall coach Bryan Mahan said in reference to the first-half stalemate, in which possession time was nearly split down the middle. The Wildcats had seven shots on goal to six for the Vikings.
With the win, Whitehall (7-8-1 overall, 5-1 West Michigan Conference) secured a second-place finish in the league standings. Montague (10-6-1, 2-3-1) took fourth in the conference.
Whitehall continued its trend of strong play. In the 29th minute of the second half, senior Yahir Gonzalez scored a goal to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead. The momentum continued as Jack McDowell, Kyren Bluhm and Jack Houtteman all contributed follow-up goals.
Whitehall notched its third shutout in the last four conference games. Senior standout Josh Holmberg held the Vikings’ defense together to prevent several Wildcat attacks in the second half.
“Josh Holmberg had a whopper of a game,” Mahan said.
Gonzalez, McDowell, Taryn Hardy and Corbin Vanderstelt all marked assists for Whitehall.
Montague’s Ian Degen tallied 12 saves on the evening, bringing him to a season total of 196.
Several players from both teams have crossed paths at some point in their soccer careers on combined local teams and other travel squads in the area. That added to the intensity of the match.
“It was a great match with some great kids. I know a lot of the kids from each school, and I see a lot of good friendships amongst the teams,” Montague coach Brandon Mahoney said.
Whitehall began its season with a 1-7-1 record, but Mahan could not help but smile after Tuesday’s game. His squad closed its regular season with five straight wins.
“We’ve grown a lot and just to see us play like that after how we started in the beginning (of the season),” Mahan said.
Next up is the district tournament for both squads. On Wednesday, Oct. 13, Whitehall hosts Fremont in a Division 2 district opener and Montague welcomes Manistee in Division 3 action.
“I’m proud of our kids for playing tough tonight, but we still have a lot of soccer ahead of us.” Mahoney said.
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