Week three of the MHSAA season featured several great matchups, not the least of which was Coach Stuursmas’ East Grand Rapids Pioneers visiting Coach Zegunis’ West Ottawa Panthers in Holland. It was grandson night for this reporter. Xander, my nine year old grandson captured the tone of the game at the end of the first quarter, when he said, “Seriously, we are not doing very good!” The WE, here, he referred to was the West Ottawa Panthers and they weren’t.
East Grand Rapids’ tailback David Evens, Jr not so much ran through the West Ottawa defense but separated them like so many stalks of wheat on the prairie. The big man charged for over a hundred yards and two touchdowns on a half dozen carries in just the first quarter. Those and a safety accounted for an 18-0 lead for the Pioneers. The only thing missing from this Friday the 13th first quarter show was the hockey mask.
Fortunately for West Ottawa, the second quarter saw a reversal of fortunes. The Panther defense rallied around solid backfield play of Luke Baker and Mason Dekker and with improved defensive line play to slow down the Pioneer’s powerful ground game. At times, the invigorated Panthers threw five players at David Evans, Jr and after he broke through that bunch, six more Panther defenders managed to subdue him for modest gains. West Ottawa’s field position improved in the second quarter with the defensive stops and Toni Soks fearless punt returns. With renewed confidence. WO senior QB Jared McNitt and junior tailback James Lacy contributed positively in three drives. These resulted in a missed 35-yard field goal attempt into a strong north wind and two touchdowns. The first at 10:45 of the second quarter on a 50 + yard TD throw by McNitt and great catch and run by senior Alex Zimmerman, and the second a 7-yard run by McNitt at 4:16 of the second quarter.
Following several time out calls by both coaches, a game which originally looked like a East Grand Rapids rout of West Ottawa turned into a two point, exciting contest, EGR 16 and WO 14.
The third quarter featured more strong running by David Evens, Jr. but with a stiffened West Ottawa defense both against the run and the passing of EGR sophomore, Mikey Roth. The Pioneers were not able to get a sustained passing game going thanks in large part to some excellent pass coverage by West Ottawa’s backs, PJ Tramell, Luke Bakker and Toni Soks and aggressive defensive line play. Yet, with a third quarter touchdown featuring their running game , East Grand Rapids extended their lead to 9 points, and set up the fourth quarter West Ottawa heroics.
In that quarter, Zimmerman and McNitt hooked up several times including a beautiful sideline completion on 4th and 11 to set up the final series. With 37 seconds to go in the game, McNitt hit Zimmerman for the winning score. The final seconds saw East Grand Rapids get a pass interference call on 4th and long and the final incomplete, hail Mary, throw into the end zone as time expired.
Credit is due both football teams for an excellent Friday night contest. East Grand Rapids has a fine offensive and defensive line which controlled the middle for most of the game. They are big and athletic and gave their quick , power back, Evens Jr., some excellent lanes to charge through. Special mention should go to tackles Colin Grogan and Conor Conaboy. I am sure the EGR young men would much rather have a win than the accolades but I am sure there will be plenty of both forthcoming for this fine group of young athletes.
Both teams are now 2-1. It is very likely that they will still be playing in November. We will soon see if West Ottawa can take another big step when Rockford visits. This was an excellent, hard hitting football game worthy of the suspense of Friday the 13th and, again, both teams are to be commended for an excellent effort.
ICE an HEAT, ICE an HEAT, ICE an HEAT. Strap ‘em up tight, young men! This was only week number 3.