Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournaments feature a bet where a player puts all his chips in the pot to raise his opponents. Someone wins the pot and if you are holding the lesser amount of chips to that someone and lose, you are out of the tournament. You don’t get to play anymore. You go home. And so it was on this last weekend of the season for several teams across the state as the brackets were determined for the 2013 Michigan High School Athletic Association Football tournament with eight Eleven Player Divisions and one Eight Player Man Division. Last Friday night, a cold one with a biting south wind blowing into the impressive stadium at Hudsonville, the West Ottawa Panthers at 5 – 3 visited the Eagles at 5 – 3. It takes six wins to qualify automatically for the tournament. Somebody was in. Likely the other team was out.
West Ottawa received and on the second play, Hudsonville’s Curt Doornbos got a hand on Panther QB’s slant pass, deflected it off the receiver and into the hands of fellow Eagle DB, Kyle Toth. A short drive gave Hudsonville a7-0 lead and it looked like the West Ottawa Panthers were going to play give away with another game. But the Eagles decided to return the turnover favor and a punt snap went over the punters head and gave West Ottawa the ball deep in Eagle territory. The six yard drive tied the game at 7 -7 at the 3:07 mark of the first quarter.
Then, at 9:51 of the second quarter, McNitt surprised the Hudsonville defense and went down the east sideline 43 yards to score on a wind aided sprint. The Hudsonville faithful mumbled that he ran well for such a big QB. At 6:00 of the second quarter another Eagle drive ended with a fumble that gave West Ottawa the ball in decent field position. This led to a third down QB draw by McNitt who drove in from the 3 yard line and the first half ended West Ottawa 21 – Hudsonville 7.
The excellent Hudsonville band put on a superb half time show which warmed the hands of the appreciative crowd but didn’t do much to take the chill off them. However, soon after the second half began, the hometown Eagles warmed to the challenge. Doornbos beat the Panther defense on a post pattern and at 10:24 of the third quarter, Hudsonville cut the lead in half to 14 -21. From this point on the Eagles always seemed to be holding the better hole cards. Nor was Doornbos done for the quarter as at 2:26 Opple found him again for a touch down pass of 35 yards and the score was tied 21 -21. Thus the stage was set for the power running of the Eagles and their own good sized QB, Opple. The Eagle offensive left side gave him several nice holes and the fourth quarter featured his running as they drove through a wearied West Ottawa defense.
At 5:14 of the fourth quarter, Hudsonville completed a hard fought comeback from a 21 -7 halftime deficit to go ahead 28-21. Now it was time to see what cards West Ottawa’s still held and to see if they could mount another late game comeback. So, whenfirst, second and then third down failed to gain another first down, the chilled Hudsonville fans knew the ALL IN play was coming. Surely with only 4:22 remaining, McNitt would scramble around on fourth and eleven and send another clutch pass to Zimmerman or Sok or some other Panther and in the usual scenario, the Panthers would get the first down and somehow tie the game. Even the Hudsonville fans murmured that West Ottawa was going for it; they were ALL IN. Then an odd thing happened. West Ottawa’s Coach Zagunis studied his cards and instead of pushing all the chips into the middle, he punted. Even on a windy night you would think the sigh of relief emmanting from the Hudsonville side of the field would have been audible to the opposing coach and caused a “rethink of that one”. But it didn’t and Hudsonville, behind continued strong running by QB Mason Opple, was not bluffing. His trifecta of first downs on the QB option / draw ran the clock down to victory formation time. West Ottawa was out of time outs and chips. Hudsonville qualified and West Ottawa went home.
Several players from both teams had very good games on this cold final week of the regular season. But It seemed to this reporter that Hudsonville’s strong defense forced the Panthers defense to be on the field too long and led to the second half vulnerability to the Hudsonville ground game. Opple and Doornboos had very good games but the Hudsonville secondary (probably with an assist from the strong, shifting wind) shut down the usually explosive West Ottawa passing game. The Panther’s running game was inconsistent as they couldn’t get much room for the quick Lacy. McNitt provided some offensive spark in their good first half but was controlled in the second. The victory of the offense for Hudsonville was only possible in the second half because of strong play of the Eagle defense.
Now the Eagles get to play a team they just beat and while there is confidence in that, it is always tough to beat the same team twice. Of course, should they succeed in that, the likely prize is a visit to THE TED. Not many teams have been successful there in November but this just may be the year that Rockford is vulnerable. The Eagles can take solace in the fact that the West Ottawa Panthers held the Rams to one scoring drive of just 20 yards through four quarters .
West Ottawa , congratulations on a season that saw you take on some tough challenges with much success. Build on that and we’ll see you next year.
Hudsonville home crowd. I was very impressed with your support of your team during the bleak first half. But I was more impressed that when things were not going well you stayed true to your program pledge of being good sportspeople. I have been in several stadiums this year where this was not only not practiced but the level of disrespect to opposing teams and officials was down right painfully embarrassing, even to an outsider. I know you travel well because I was with you some years ago at Ford Field when you won it all. Cheer you’re young people on and good luck!