Playoff Picks: Opening Round

Predicted winners are italicized.

All games are 7 pm Friday unless otherwise noted.

Division 1

No. 2 Grandville 6-3 @ No. 1 Rockford 6-3: The Bulldogs were shutout by Rockford in the midst of a three-game losing streak then ended up sharing the O-K title with the Rams. But that was without Nolan Meekhof, and the best running back in the Lake Area means there’s upset potential here.

No. 3 East Kentwood 6-3 @ No. 4 Hudsonville 6-3: The Falcons find the Eagles on a two-game losing streak, and knock them out of the playoffs again.

Division 2

No. 6 Forest Hills Northern 7-2 @ No. 1 Mona Shores 9-0: Forest Hills Northern may be playing for pride in this one against a Mona team even better than last year’s state runner-up, but the Huskies showed they had a ton of it last week when they deprived Forest Hills Eastern an undefeated regular season.

No. 3 Muskegon 7-2 @ No. 4 Traverse City Central 9-0: This one is for the old heads, a renewal of the Lake Michigan rivalry of the 1960s-80s between two of the state’s most storied programs. In the 21st century version, it’s not that Muskegon is that much faster than Traverse City Central, but how quickly they start playing at the Big Reds’ speed..

Battle Creek Lakeview 6-3 @ No. 2 Lowell 8-1: The Red Arrows haven’t lost a game since August, and it’s not going to happen in October, either.

No. 8 Byron Center 7-2 @ No. 5 Portage Central 8-1: Byron Center lost to Zeeland West 42-13, and could similarly have its collective arms full with Portage Central’s veer offense where Brandon Sturgeon and Theo Kizer pile up yards. There are two very athletic juniors at receiver, and college coaches will want to try and convince Byron Center’s Brayden Smith and Portage Central’s Austin McCullough to forego the hardwood for the pads.

Division 3

No. 8 Gaylord 6-3 @ Mt. Pleasant 7-2, 1 pm Saturday: While they haven’t had the postseason success of smaller neighboring schools like Ithaca and Beal City, the Oilers are battle-tested in the Saginaw Valley and have a monster at linebacker in Hunter Buczkowski and breakout threat at QB in Kalebb Perry.

Sault Ste. Marie 6-3 @ No. 7 Petoskey 7-2: It will be bookends for the Sault, with Petoskey both beginning and ending their season with a loss. It ws 42-14 the first time around.

No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian 5-4 @ No. 2 East Grand Rapids 6-3: Their regular season contest left EGR bitter after squandering a 26-0 lead only to lose 39-33 in overtime.

No. 4 Cedar Springs 6-3 @ No. 5 Zeeland East 6-3, 1 pm Saturday: East’s rep is built as much on losing to quality competition like Muskegon, Mona Shores and Grand Rapids Christian, as it did in beating good competition, as Hudsonville is the only W that made the playoffs. If healthy, Cedar Springs may have the athletes on defense to stymie the Chix’ CJ Otteman to Khylin Barton connection that had 14 regular season TDs, but could struggle up front if junior lineman Patrick DePiazza is out.

Sturgis 6-3 @ No. 1 St. Joseph 8-1: Speaking of QB to receiver combos, St. Joe’s Griffin Baudette to Jordan Brewer is hot right now, which complements a rushing attack with three backs with at least 400 yards and five TDs.

No. 10 Stevensville Lakeshore 6-3 @ No. 6 Edwardsburg 9-0: The streak is now 18 playoff appearances for Lakeshore. Their defense will have to slowdown a wing-T offense so potent that at times it has Edwardsburg looking the Zeeland West of the borderlands.

Vicksburg 7-2 @ Marshall 7-2, 1 pm Saturday: Ryan VanDyke is not coming through that door.

Division 4

No. 5 Whitehall 6-3 @ No. 9 Chippewa Hills 7-2: Between the Aylor Bros. Connection and tough play up front, Whitehall won three straight to make the playoffs.

Big Rapids 6-3 @ Escanaba 5-4: There are road trips, and then there’s this one.

Plainwell 5-4 @ No. 1 Zeeland West 9-0: West isn’t just the favorite in this game, but to win the entire Division 4 field.

No. 8 Wyoming Godwin Heights 6-3 vs No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central 8-1 @ Grand Rapids Christian: Godwin is in the playoffs for the first time in over a quarter century. Three years ago, they had to cancel their season. Now they go up against one of the Lake Area’s bluebloods, coming off yet another O-K Gold title.

Alma 6-3 @ No. 3 Forest Hills Eastern 8-1: FHE should regroup from its first loss, and the O-K conference pedigree should mean they roll here.

Saginaw Swan Valley 6-3 @ No. 4 Comstock Park 7-2: CP’s only losses are to teams that could very well be hoisting hardware championship weekend, Zeeland West (just a 10-point loss and the only game the Dux scored under 40 points) and West Catholic.

No. 10 Dowagiac 6-3 @ No. 7 Benton Harbor 5-4: Elliot Uzelac’s first season as Benton Harbor’s coach coincides with the school’s first-ever playoff appearance. Despite being a five-win qualifier the Tigers play host in the opener thanks to wins over bigger schools.

No. 6 Hudsonville Unity Christian 6-3 @ 7-2 Lakewood: If Unity Christian pulls this off, it will be their first win over a playoff qualifier.

Division 5

No. 6 Grayling 6-3 @ Menominee 9-0: Menominee plays one of the state’s unique schedules, and have come through it cleanly.

No. 7 Manistee 7-2 @ No. 3 Reed City 9-0: As always, Reed City can really run the ball. A second straight district title will be a tough order, as if the Coyotes win they face either West Catholic or Oakridge.

No. 2 Muskegon Oakridge 7-2 @ No. 1 Grand Rapids West Catholic 7-2: These two have shared the Lake Area’s top rank in Division 5 all season. West Catholic is a rare team with the size and athleticism to slow down Oakridge’s go-to target James Cooper.

Hillsdale 6-3 @ No. 4 Buchanan 9-0: Buchanan reached at least 60 points three times during their undefeated regular season.

Olivet 6-3 @ No. 5 Berrien Springs 8-1: Steven Spenner will continue his Chris Spielman impersonation for Berrien Springs.

Division 6

Oscoda 6-3 @ No. 6 Boyne City 8-1: Boyne City senior Malik Smith has run for 1,500 yards and 20 TDs.

Glen Lake 5-4 @ No. 1 Traverse City St. Francis 9-0, 1 pm Saturday: The “other” 9-0 team in TC, St. Francis, beat Glen Lake just three weeks ago 41-7.

Lake City 5-4 @ No. 7 Mason County Central 6-3: It took a season for Lake City to adjust to life without star QB Drew Marion, but after that sabbatical they’re back in the playoffs. Mason County Central was forged in the rugged West Michigan Conference, giving them the edge.

Morley Stanwood 6-3 @ No. 2 NorthPointe Christian 9-0: With a dominant defense that has allowed just over 7 points per game and a dominant QB in senior Spencer Peterson, NPC has state championship ingredients.

Delton Kellogg 5-4 @ No. 3 Montague 9-0: Few saw this coming, with Montague going from a two-win team in 2014 to an undefeated regular season in 2015.

No. 8 Constantine 5-4 @ No. 4 Schoolcraft 9-0: Despite the disparate records, Constantine is the only team to have led Schoolcraft this season, before falling 42-24. Schoolcraft has a weapon in junior QB Ricky Clark, with 2,200 yards and 30 TDs combined passing and running.

No. 9 Lawton 7-2 @ No. 5 Watervliet 8-1: Watervliet scored at least 50 points in their eight wins, largely on the arm of senior QB Blake Kiekenapp who has thrown for 1,800 yards and 28 TDs.

Division 7

Whittemore-Prescott 5-4 @ No. 4 McBain 6-3: It’s baptism by fire for McBain’s sophomore QB Alex Utecht, making just his second start.

Harbor Springs 6-3 @ Iron Mountain 6-3: A stranger to the postseason, Harbor Springs, travels over the Bridge to meet a playoff regular. Iron Mountain has pitched four shutouts while holding opponents to fewer than 10 points per game.

No. 1 Saugatuck 9-0 @ No. 2 Hesperia 9-0: Saugatuck’s Blake Dunn will continue a monster season which thus far has over 3,000 yards from under center with 45 TDs.

No. 7 Gobles 5-4 @ No. 3 Bridgman 8-1: It just continues to get better for Bridgman. Last year the Bees go the first playoff win in school history — against Gobles — and followed that up with the most regular season wins in school history.

No. 8 Hartford 5-4 @ No. 5 Cassopolis 7-2: Cassopolis’ offense is peaking, scoring 137 points in the past two games.

Division 8

Hillman 6-3 @ No. 2 Johannesburg-Lewiston 8-1: If we know one thing about this game, it’s that Jo’burg’s Logan Huff will have double-digit tackles.

Baldwin 4-4 @ No. 4 Frankfort 7-2: Frankfort went undefeated to win the Northern Michigan Football League 2.

No. 5 Central Lake 7-2 @ No. 3 Onekama 8-1: The good news for Onekama, the Portagers went undefeated in the West Michigan D League. The bad news, it was the West Michigan D League.

Sacred Heart 6-3 @ No. 1 Muskegon Catholic Central 6-2: Catholic Central is embarking on a playoff path towards a possible third-straight state championship.

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