Category Archives: Gamers

Dux dig the long ball

Zeeland West’s offense is ridiculous. The Dux scored on every possession Friday night but the last, when they chose to kneel. That’s about the only time they weren’t running by Holland Christian, and won 66-36. First-year but veteran coach Jim Casserta will get this program going, but the Maroons’ tackling was as bad as when they played West last year. The Dux put 60 points on them then, which was a school record … until now.

It was a field day for West’s trio of running backs: junior Marcus Lambert 252 yards, three TDs; senior Jon Pung, 199 yards, four TDs; senior Braden Werley, 184 yards and one TD. Lambert is the breakaway threat, and found pay dirt with rusn of 72, 65 and 63 yards. Punt also covered HC’s star junior receiver, Kyle Steigenga, all night, and had an interception. Werley is the most rugged and versatile of the backs. Both he and Pung have futures in small college ball.

West’s defense has been suspect all year itself, and they lost two shootouts to open the season to Forest Hills Central and Zeeland East. With the Dux focused on slowing down Steigenga, Maroons senior QB Ross Schreuer picked it apart underneath and threw for 497 yards and two TDs, both to Steigenga, but with three picks.

The top two prospects in the game were in the junior class, West’s 6-6, 290 tight end/d-tackle Jordan VanDort, and the 6-4, 185 Steigenga. VanDort seems to have a knack for rising to the occasion. Just when you think maybe the big boy is getting disinterested, boom, he was the first one into the backfield to stop HC on fourth-and-one.

Steigenga had his fifth-straight game of 100+ receiving yards, with 166. His laconic demeanor belies big-time legs.

Traverse City West Wears Down Cadillac

Derrick Diver

TC West linebacker Derrick Diver (2013)

On a cold night at Thirlby Field, Traverse City West was on fire — on offense and defense. The Titans racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense en route to a 40-11 win over Cadillac. This game marked Cadillac’s first loss of the season. Offensively for West, quarterback Donny Cizek was a cool customer with a perfect completion percentage at halftime and three touchdowns. His favorite targets were fullback Geordon Carter, running back Griffin Forrester, and wide receiver Tyler Johnson. Johnson has good size, solid speed, and is a very good route runner. There could be a place for him at the next level. Up front for the Titans, Connor Hayes, again, was dominant. He’s not overly athletic, but he’s a mauler and plays with really good pad level. He could actually play center or stay at his current guard position in college. He’s a BCS recruit, following in the footsteps of recent TC West grad and current Oregon sophomore lineman, Jake Fisher. The Titans’ offense was spectacular in the running game and the passing game.

Cadillac managed to hang with the Titans early on, largely in part to their two Division I tackles Jack Ford and Riley Norman. Ford is a lunchpail type of lineman who is fundamentally sound and plays to the whistle on every snap. CMU is getting a true workhorse. Norman is a beast and plays with an attitude — in a good way. At 6-7 and nearly 300 pounds, this track & field scholarship commit for Michigan State could be a future NFL’er if he decides to try football for the Spartans. The other standout on offense for the Vikings was quarterback Jalen Brooks. Brooks, a junior, rushed for 268 yards including an 80-yard TD run. He’s getting looks from Division II schools at the QB position, but could sneak into a MAC school if continues to improve as a pocket passer. Watching Brooks harkens comparisons to former CMU great Dan LeFevour.

Putting a stop to the Vikings’ offensive efforts was middle linebacker Derrick Diver. Diver did everything besides take the tickets and pop the popcorn. He’s a throwback linebacker that plays sideline to sideline, making bone-crushing hits. He’s a leader and the heart and soul of West’s defense. Diver is drawing interest from Division I and Division II schools. Memo to all of those schools: offer this kid a scholarship now. You won’t be disappointed. Diver can flat out play. The other defensive standout for TC West was sophomore cornerback Zach McGuire. With really good size (6-1, 180) and good speed, he has potential to become a Division I prospect. McGuire has good cover skills and is a ballhawk.

In the end, TC West’s depth proved to be too much for Cadillac to handle as the Titans pulled away with a big victory. But don’t count Cadillac out just yet. They will be one of the top teams heading into the Division 4 playoffs, but tonight belonged to the Division I Traverse City West Titans.

Muskegon: Best in the State

Credit: LakeMichiganFootballReport.com

It was a classic 1 vs. 2 matchup that lived up to the hype. But as all good things, it had to come to an end, and Muskegon sealed the victory over Lowell in noteworthy fashion. With a convincing 36-21 win over the Red Arrows, the Big Reds move to 4-0 and earn our vote as the best team in Michigan, regardless of division. And, yes, we have seen Cass Tech play this season.

The Big Reds jumped out to an early double-digit lead, but Lowell fought back thanks to elusive quarterback, Titan Anderson.  Anderson looks to be on-par with the Red Arrows’ string of recent QB greats. He plays the position with a high football IQ, has great pocket presence, and a good arm. He also ran the ball well against a tough defense.

The other bright spot for Lowell was wide receiver Jeff Houston. Houston ran good routes and caught every ball he got his hands on. Despite the spark of Houston and Anderson, Muskegon’s defense eventually wore down their opponents.

Leading the defensive charge for Muskegon were the usual suspects upfront, junior Kenneth Finley and senior Ronald Jenkins. Both wreaked havoc in Lowell’s backfield all night. Senior Demetrius Brown provided the leadership and enthusiasm to excite both teammates and fans. Playing as a hybrid safety/linebacker, Brown is the clear emotional leader of the Big Reds defense. He plays fast and manages to get near the ball on nearly every single play.

Another standout on D for the Big Reds was junior linebacker William Hunt. Lowell just couldn’t block him. He’s a prototypical linebacker with good feet and is a sure tackler. He added a few big sacks on the night and it was easy to see why we have him pegged as one of our top 2014 prospects.

Offensively, Muskegon was led by Marcus Smith, a senior running back who is returning to the field after missing two football seasons for various reasons. Smith has a rare combination of good speed and good quickness. He can stop on a dime and make you miss, or just simply outrun you. He finished the night with 145 yards and three touchdowns, including an 85-yarder in the second half. He’s currently being recruited by GLIAC schools, but could develop into a MAC-level prospect by season’s end.

Muskegon’s talent is apparent. Coach Shane Fairfield estimated that his team has seven players who could play at the college level on his current defense. Just on defense. Offensively, they have several more prospects. But, it’s not just the talent, Coach Fairfield has his players buying-in and playing with great passion and mental toughness that sets them apart from other teams.  It was particularly fitting that current Ferris State football coach — and former Big Reds coach — Tony Annese was on-hand to watch tonight’s showdown. Annese led Muskegon teams to the 2004, 2006, and 2008 state titles. This current Big Reds team looks eerily similar to Annese’s state championship teams.

Eagles arrive: GR Christian looks at home against nationally ranked opponent

A novice power, Grand Rapids Christian, proved worthy upstart to an old school giant Saturday in Cincinnati. Even in defeat to Archbishop Moeller, the Eagles proved themselves worthy of preseason accolades, ultimately falling 42-34 to USA Today’s No. 12 team in the country.

GR Christian set the tone early, as Moeller had a hard time keeping up with their multi-threat, no-huddle offense. The Eagles led 24-14 at halftime. Senior QB Alex Van DeVusse had TD passes to his top three weapons — junior Drake Harris, junior Dwayne Barfield and senior tight end and CMU commitment Zach Crouch. In the first half Van DeVusse was 12-for-24 for 183 and the three TDs. Moeller was able to flush him out of the pocket and disrupt the Eagle’s rhythm in the second half, as Van DeVusse finished 18-of-40 for 282 yards, three TDs, three interceptions. After the intermission, Barfield was sidelined on crutches, Crouch rarely lined up at tight end and Harris had just one reception outside the flats, a leaping grab in traffic over the middle.

Grand Rapids Christian is now 1-1 and will play at dangerous, 2-0 Kenowa Hills on Friday, Sept. 7 then play host to Hudsonville before navigating a brutal O-K White schedule.

Game Notes:

  • Harris was one of three Big Ten commitments in the game. The two others were from Moeller seniors, linebacker Shane Jones, a future Spartan like Harris, and running back Keith Watkins, who will go to Northwestern.  Harris finished with seven catches for 101 yards and 30-yard TD. At 6-4, 185 and the ability to go get the ball, he looked every party the big-time downfield receiver. The aforementioned catch across the middle looked entirely incongruous with anything like the “soft” label some have placed on Harris. Jones keyed a defense that didn’t allow the Eagles much of any running game, and had seven tackles and an interception. Watkins is a dynamic little back who rushed 20 times for 219 yards and two TDs. He took a screen pass for 79 yards and a TD — five Christian players missed tackles — in the opening minute of the second half, cutting the Eagles’ lead to 24-21.
  • There could be at least another Big 10 recruit from this game. Tommy Doles, GR Christian’s 6-5, 245 junior lineman, already has an offer from Michigan, as well as Iowa State, where his cousin, Kyle Lichtenberg, plays on the offensive line. Doles is much different than some of the behemoth junior linemen we’ve already covered this season, like Zeeland West’s Jordan VanDort and Traverse City West’s Connor Hayes. He’s athletic with both quick feet and hands, and balance; excels with technique rather than brute strength. Still, he has a big butt, the frame to add good weight and when he got his heels down even Moeller’s biggest linemen were stoned by Doles. On the other side Doles, the son of long-time Channel 8 sports anchor Jack Doles, played with his hand down in the Eagles’ 3-4.
  • Senior kicker Joel Schipper is a serious weapon for Grand Rapids Christian. He drilled field goals of 48 and 47 yards, and put his kickoffs out the back of the end zone. This season Schipper had made all nine of his PAT attempts.
  • Conversely, Christian’s punt team was tragic. Moeller blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for their first touchdown, then got a piece of another one in the fourth quarter to get the ball back on the Eagles’ 12-yard-line. The ensuing touchdown gave Moeller its largest lead of the game, 42-27, with 9 minutes 22 seconds left in the fourth.
  • Grand Rapids Christian has two future stars on the defensive side of the ball in sophomore lineman Juwan Jarnegan and sophomore linebacker Qi-ante Ewing.

Talented Muskegon shines in Ohio

For Muskegon, the 3.5 hour journey to northwest Ohio was worth every minute.  Muskegon gave up some big plays early, but battled back to win a thriller over traditional powerhouse Sylvania Southview (OH), 40-37. The Big Reds look to back to their “old” form with many college prospects on both sides of the ball. Muskegon rushed for a staggering 409 yards — many of them behind big right tackle Antwan Billings, a potential Division I prospect who may be the most underrated lineman in the state. At 6-3, 275, he will most likely be a guard at the next level but has great reach and a good motor.  Billings showed great versatility in run-blocking and pass-blocking.

The Big Reds showed a talented stable of players in the backfield as well, led by senior quarterback Jalen Smith. Smith looks like former Big Red QB Chris Crawford reincarnated.  He has great command of the offense, and is a perfect fit to run the read option.  Another bright spot was fullback John King, who led Muskegon in rushing with 152 yards on 21 carries and two TD’s. He runs angry and would be a great fit at the DII level with a team favoring a power running game.  He’s being recruited by several GLIAC schools.  The Big Reds’ other backs, Marcus Smith and Javontae Langston, both ran for over 100 yards behind a great senior offensive line.

On defense, Muskegon had a tough time early containing Southview quaterback Valdez Austin, a Bowling Green commit. Big defensive plays late in the game proved to be the difference for Muskegon, including a monumental goal-line stand with less than three minutes to play.  The Big Reds were led on defense by Ronald Jenkins, a Muskgeon Heights transfer who was in the Cougars’ backfield all night. At defensive end, Jenkins caused a big fumble late in the game that shifted the momentum.  Jenkins is another Muskegon player with great potential for playing at the next level.  Anchoring the other side of the defensive line was Kenneth Finley. Finley displayed high-major talent with his ability to get to the quarterback. He also made big plays against the run.  He’s big and fast to the football, and could quickly move up in our 2014 class rankings.

This Muskegon team played with the swagger and aggression reminiscent of its state title teams from a few years ago. After the game, head coach Shane Fairfield summed up the state of his team best. “We’re back to where we were under Tony,” Fairfield said.  “We have a lot of seniors on this team; we’re back.”

“Game of the week” all that, Chix win epic

In a game where points seemed as common as towheads amongst the 5,000 faithful in Zeeland Stadium, they were stressful and hard-earned when Zeeland East most needed them. They got ‘em. The Chix came through clutch in a 60-52 double OT win over next door neighbor and defending Division 4 state champion Zeeland East.

Zeeland East’s senior quarterback Michael Custer converted a six-yard, fourth down pass in the second OT to junior Zach Hill, for what would be the winning edge after West couldn’t, finally, score on their ensuing possession. To even get to the first overtime East needed a 29-yard field goal from senior Gabe Boss as regulation time expired, tying it 44-44. Until that point in the game, Boss hadn’t even attempted a PAT.

Zeeland East is now 2-0, Zeeland West 0-2.

Game Notes:

  • The top-ranked college prospects in the game were both in the junior class, East’s 6-0, 205 running back/linebacker Spencer Viening and West’s 6-6, 285 tight end/lineman Jordan VanDort. There’s a lot to like about Viening running the ball, because he’s patient with his blockers, has vision for space, the size and strength to break tackles, the speed to get into the second tier. He ran for 171 yards and  two TDs. And, in a game where there was a lot of hitting up front but not much defense, Viening was good in pursuit and able to plug holes a couple times. Viening will end up a rare four-year starter for East. At the next level he could be a safety, running back or linebacker. Custer does a terrific job of sharing the ball in East’s spread, so Viening is just one of the Chix’ weapons. Senior Josh Blawkamp had 179 yards and a TD and senior Levii VanOrman is perfect for the spread he caught balls out of the backfield for scores of  83 and five yards. Custer finished 19-of-33 for 281 yards and five TDs.
  • VanDort played all over for ZW — both defensive ends, defensive tackle, special teams and tight end. He had just two catches, but both were huge. VanDort took a pass from junior QB Jordon Lambert 33 yards for the Dux first score, then went 47 yards to set up West’s go-ahead TD with under two minutes to play in regulation. VanDort is obviously a huge target, and has soft hands. There were two catchable balls thrown his way, and he brought in both of them. His best plays defensively came on the interior, where twice VanDort collapsed the line and found the ball-handler behind it leading to gang tackles. As a tight end, Jordan is already too big for the position for many schemes, and he doesn’t block much passion (though good speed when he pulled) so the seemingly natural move for an athlete of his size to offensive tackle might not be as obvious and easy as it was with a prospect like Oregon’s Jake Fisher, who similarly played just tight when at Traverse City West. If one had to make the call today, and it’s hard because VanDort is such a raw talent that can be molded in various directions, he projects as a Tyler Hoover-type defensive tackle.
  • If there’s a better gig for a high school running back than fullback in the Wing-T, it’s fullback in John Shillito‘s Wing-T. For Zeeland West that  job belongs to 5-11, 175 junior Marcus Lambert. He ran 17 times for 307 yards and five TDs. Three of them came in a third-quarter blitz, as he went on scoring runs of 58, 58 and 55 yards, to give West a 38-27 lead headed into the fourth (his other touchdowns covered 50 and 28 yards).
  • While Lambert had the highlight plays, the senior next to him Braden Werley got the tough yards and first downs on third and fourth, while also playing safety, returning kicks and punting.
  • West’s defense has obviously struggled. In two games they’ve given up 119 points. In the entire 2011 regular season the Dux allowed 132. The good news is, the teams that put them at 0-2 are the two strongest entries on Zeeland West’s schedule. They start O-K Green play Friday, Sept. 7 at Byron Center. Zeeland East’s rout is tougher, with Muskegon, Kenowa Hills and early surprise Mona Shores all awaiting in the O-K Black.

New-look Grand Haven catches on when it matters

With  only one offensive starter — third-year center Matt Mulcahy — back from a record-setting 2011, no one was expecting Grand Haven to put up 30 in their season opener. It took awhile for quarterback Michael Penland to find a rhythm in his first varsity start, but the 6-3, 180 senior discovered it at the right time. He led the Buccaneers on a 64-yard drive in the game’s closing minutes, ultimately connecting with senior Jake Lovett for a 17-14 win over Traverse City Central, Friday at Grand Haven. TC Central missed a 46-yard field goal attempt  in the closing seconds.

Game Notes:
*Grand Haven’s Isaak Newhouse, a 6-0, 185 junior, has been labeled the heir apparent to all-state receiver Danny Cotter, now at Butler. He caught one touchdown, but in this game Newhouse’s major impact came on the defensive side. He straight out yanked away a TD pass from the hands of a TC Central receiver late in the first half. Earlier, he showed off his tackling skills by stoning one-on-one TJ Schepperly, the Trojans’ shifty senior QB. Offensively, Newhouse got a good break off the line and showed requisite straight-line speed for the position.

*The breakout player for Traverse City Central was 6-3, 210 outside linebacker Mitchell Wynkoop. You won’t find this junior on any recruiting charts now, but that will change. He twice stopped Grand Haven running backs behind the line of scrimmage, and in the third quarter laid a hit on Penland that resulted in an interception. Wynkoop was strong in coverage against the Bucs’ tight end, 6-4, 215 senior Anthony Perrier, but was a bit stiff and upright dropping back with wide receivers. That said, no passes were completed on him.

*In his quarterback debut, Penland finished 14-of-31 passing for 184 yards. The man getting him the ball, Mulcahy, is a smart, tough two-way player at 5-11, 210. In addition to his duties at center, from linebacker he led Grand Haven with 10 tackles.

*6-7, 280 senior Tyler Gildersleeve was impressive at right tackle for Traverse City Central. He has an explosive lower body and good reach. Rare for the O-K Red, Grand Haven is a finesse team and had no one who could physically match up with Gildersleeve, and despite his lack of upper body strength he repeatedly mauled them in the running game. Liked how he always kept the legs churning. Right tackle is a good fit for Gildersleeve, as he doesn’t have the nimble feet for the left side. With improved strength and awareness in the passing game, and he could go MAC on signing day.

*Schepperly makes good things happen with his legs. He’s be even more dangerous if the Trojans had a power running game to set up his jaunts around the end, but he made do. At 5-8, 175, quarterback is obviously not his natural position, but he’s a tough, rah-rah, team-first type who can rally his guys and get them going. TJ looked good on punt returns, which could be his ticket to the next level.

Lowell vs. Rockford: Game notes

Apparently even a school as big as Rockford can experience depth problems when the injury bug runs wild. Down to their third string QB, and without top player KC Zenner, the Rams just didn’t have the manpower to stand up to the stalwart defense of Lowell, losing 16-6. It’s the second-straight season opener the Red Arrows have won against Rockford.

*Lowell’s defensive efforts were led by two seniors, Pierce Watson and Reed Stormzand. Watson showed great instincts and athleticism at defensive end. His pass rushing moves were equally impressive for a high school player. At the next level, his size will probably dictate a move to outside linebacker. Right now, however, he’s simply a baller any time he’s on the field. Stormzand showed great speed at linebacker and made a lot of critical plays, including a sack that caused a safety. He benches 225 for 15 reps and has great speed and power. Stormzand will be a steal for someone at the next level.

*On the other side of the field, Lowell’s offense was sparked by first-time starting QB Titan Anderson. He dominated the ground with a rushing attack and found a big targer through the air in Zach Huver, connecting on a timely TD.

*Rockford’s only TD came from running back Connor Darby. The 6-0, 195 senior ran well and was active on defense all night.

*Rockford has one of the state’s top junior inside linebacker duos in Brent Showers and Randy Garvin. Showers showed good lateral quickness and made plays sideline-to-sideline all night. You can tell he has a high football IQ. Showers’ running mate, Garvin, has a nose for the ball as well and made his presence known. They keyed a Rams defense that played relatively well until fatigue settled in in the fourt quarter. Rockford’s lack of offensive production just kept its defense out there too long.

Coveted junior linemen excel as Kenowa Hills wins late against TC West

Kenowa Hills scored the game-winning TD, a 17-yard bullet over the middle from Cody Ritsema to fellow senior Dylan Smith, with 1 minute 16 seconds to play, giving the Knights a 16-12 opening night victory over Traverse City West.

That score erased West’s first lead, which came on a TD plunge from junior Grant Balino less than 90 seconds previous, set up by a 39-yard run by Titans freshman Grant Ellison. He had a number of big gains, his high school debut made all the easier by the presence of a future Division 1 guard, Connor Hayes, partnering well with junior center Wilson Unke in consistently opening fullback-sized holes.

Already with offers from CMU, Indiana, Syracuse and WMU, Hayes continues TC West’s streak of offensive linemen that includes Oregon sophomore tackle Jake Fisher and former U-M center Rocko Khoury. Hayes doesn’t immediately wow you physically quite like Fisher. In Game of Thrones parlance, if Fisher is the Mountain That Rides, then Connor is younger brother The Hound — still a renowned killer. There’s little doubting Hayes’ strength for the position. When the 6-3, 292 junior made contact, Kenowa had no push on the interior. One he locked on, it was Hayes doing the moving, helping West pile up 422 yards of offense, 365 of it on the ground. Generally kept his hands inside, other than once when he just tackled a Kenowa defender (no flag). The only time he was clearly beat, it was just an old-fashioned whiff. Would like to see him get lower when run blocking. Hayes’ feet and speed were solid, as a couple times he reached his second blocking assignment. In addition to his four offers, he’s being recruited by Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota.

Game Notes:
*Connor Hayes came into the game as The Lake Michigan Football Report’s No. 6 2014 prospect. On the other side of the ball, 6-2, 240 Kenowa Hills junior Zach Evans checks in at No. 20. If he plays like this the rest of the season, that’s probably too low. This is his first year playing with a hand down. He started at right defensive end and right offensive tackle, and rarely left the field. He moved well in space, got off the line quickly, but can stand to get stronger to free himself from traffic. He had three sacks. On the second one Evans came in untouched from the blind side, forcing a fumble from West senior QB Donny Cizek. 6-2, 200 junior Travis Breuker started on the other end and had a play-making knack himself. 6-0, 195 junior linebacker Chase Dunneback led the team with 12 tackles. 6-3, 180 junior Josh Fransted has good safety size and sealed the deal with a late interception. These four are clearly a defensive group to follow the next two seasons.

*West’s top senior prospect is linebacker Derrick Diver. The GLIAC likes him, with good reason. Diver isn’t an explosive hitter, but he’s a smart, smooth read-shed-and-wrap guy with terrific size at 6-3, 218 and sub 5.0 40 speed. Diver was credited with eight tackles and recovered a fourth-quarter fumble that led to the Titans’ go-ahead score.

*Kenowa Hills dominated the special teams play. Senior kicker Vinner Mendez put all three of his kickoffs into the end zone and put through both PAT. West didn’t convert on three two-point attempts (the “successful” one nullified by a 15-yard chop block) and gave the Knights an early 2-0 lead when a West snap went over the punter’s head into the end zone.

*Traverse City West’s underclassman talent was impressive. Ellison is the starter at fullback as a 6-0, 175 freshman. 6-1, 180 sophomores Zack McGuire was good in cover situations, moving well for his size and age with 4.7 40 speed. The Titans’ top young prospect, one who is expected to succeed Hayes in the offensive line tradition, is still on the JV, 6-4, 270 freshman Thiyo Lukusa.

*He wasn’t featured until the two minute drill, but Kenowa Hills’ 6-1, 180 senior receiver Dylan Smith could be a solid small college prospect.

*Wilson Unke played well at center for West, but unfortunately was carted off the field late in the game with a leg injury.

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