Ryan Verhelst (West Ottawa) vs.
KC Zenner (Rockford)
These are two of the best defensive backs in the Lake Michigan area. Zenner is a hitter who always seems to be in the right place. Verhelst, also WO’s leading receiver, is a dynamic athlete who can turn the momentum of a game when he takes an interception, pass or kick for a touchdown. When Rockford beat WO in the regular season, both had picks, and Verhelst took back his for a 45 yard TD. Both will have their chances again. Rockford throws it more than you might suspect. QB Kyle Short has successively had his most prolific passing games four weeks in a row, topped in the opening round against TC West when he was 16-of-28 for 177 yards and two TDs. He’s throw two TD passes in each of the last three games and if Verhelst were to pick off Short, it would the first interception this season for the Rockford senior. In these teams first meeting, though, Short was 5-of-15 via the air. WO QB Trevor VanTubbergen struggled at the same rate, completing 7-of-21 throws.
Dalton Sulz (Mancelona) vs.
Brad Wootke and RJ Poirier (Ishpeming)
Sulz is the cornerstone of Mancelona’s 10-0 team. The senior anchors the offensive line and at 6-2, 255 he’s athletic enough to play linebacker. As a linebacker he’ll be banging heads with Ishpeming lineman Wootke, his twin as a 6-2, 255 senior. As a blocker Sulz will have to be aware of Poirier. The 5-11, 205 senior is the Hematites’ leading tackler. Both Wootke and Poirier were All-UP selections.
DeJuan James (Portage Central) vs.
Trevor Sweeney (Mattawan)
These two seniors are among the most entertaining backs to see in The Lake’s coverage area. James has scored 23 TDs, Sweeney has scored 27. They have some help and balance back there, as Mattawan’s Brok Lamorandier has run for over 1,000 yards himself and for Central Jacob Allan will surpass 1,000 this game. James and Sweeney really have skin in the game, as both are two-way standouts.
Braden Werley (Zeeland West) vs.
Matthew Hall (Grand Rapids Christian)
Local TV cameramen must dislike shooting Zeeland West games, it’s just so easy to lose the ball in that full-house T, and before they know it they’ve been following a decoy back 10 yards up field. It’s not much easier for linebackers, who too often find Marcus Lambert, Jon Pung, Werley or Jordon Lambert running free where they were supposed to be. But Hall is no average high school linebacker. The 6-1, 210 senior is the elder statesman of the Eagles’ talented but young defense, and with 110 tackles, more than twice as many as anyone else on the team. Crisp ball-handling and execution is the given for West coach John Shillito’s offense, and now it’s Werley first taking hold of the ball. The senior moved from wing back to QB for the injured J-Lamb, and the machine hasn’t missed a rotation. Hall and Friends will have to come out sharp and on point. The 6-0 first-quarter deficit Christian faced last week against Fruitport would be 28-0 against a running game as potent as the Dux’.
Jake Brown & Jake Bush (Comstock Park) vs.
Joe Craven & Nate Hollern (Grand Rapids Catholic Central)
Comstock Park QB Jake Brown loves to Tebow it between tackles and has run for 21 TDs. GRCC’s Joe Craven packs a wallop when he holds down his gap and will finish his career as the school’s leading tackler. Jake Bush is the perfect third-down back, a threat to make you miss in the flat. The junior has 492 yards receiving and 345 running. Hollern is the speed linebacker, covering sideline to sideline and trying to keep Bush from turning the corners.
Mitchell Wynkoop (Traverse City Central) vs.
Steve Elmer (Midland)
Wynkoop is a 6-3, 220 junior defensive end. He’s one of the state’s real D1 sleepers in 2014 because not only does he have the physical profile, but he sells out on every play. He’s been able to hone his craft against the outstanding offensive linemen in the Big North, such as Cadillac’s Jack Ford and Riley Norman, Ogemaw Heights’ Alec Stevens and TC West’s Connor Hayes, as well as the Trojans own Tyler Gildersleeve in practice. So he won’t be totally in awe of Elmer, though he hasn’t seen the total, polished package like the 6-6, 305 All-American headed to Notre Dame. Were Wynkoop to put together some quality video against Elmer, he could write his ticket to the next level.