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Preview and Game Picks - Muskegon County's District Final Match Ups
Nearly all of Muskegon County's 2017 playoff qualifiers made easy work of their first-round playoff match ups. The second round and district finals should prove more challenging as the competition gets stiffer and the stakes get higher. Here's a look at this week's district final match ups for Muskegon County's remaining playoff contenders:
DIVISION 2: Region 1 - District 2 - Mona Shores (9-1) @ GR Forest Hills Central (10-0):
Undoubtedly one of the best district final match ups in the state, the winner of this one will be a strong bet to make an appearance at Ford Field. OK-White champion FH Central made quick work of Mattawan in round one after completing an undefeated season - notching big wins over West Ottawa, Cedar Springs, and Lowell in the process. The Rangers' defense has been a strong point all season, allowing just 12 pts/game, and they'll be challenged by a Mona Shores offense scoring 43 pts/game. Mona Shores is also coming off a comfortable victory, cruising through Portage Central 45-17. The Sailors were nearly untouchable in the regular season - notching big wins over Canton, Zeeland West, and Rockford - with their only loss a close game against OK-Black rival, and perhaps the best team in the entire state, the Muskegon Big Reds.
Both Mona Shores and FH Central will look to use their speed at the skill positions to spread the field out and hit on big plays - especially on the artificial turf. These two squads haven't played one another since 2011, but don't expect the lack of familiarity to lessen the anticipation, these teams will be fired up to play in what should be an electric environment. I'll be taking this one in live, and I think the Sailors are prime for title-run - taking Mona Shores for the win here, 35 - 24.
DIVISION 3: Region 1 - District 1 - Zeeland West (7-3) vs. Muskegon (10-0) (at Grand Haven HS):
Zeeland West won't have much time to celebrate getting revenge on their in-town rivals Zeeland East, as they have the Muskegon Big Reds waiting in the wing, the AP's top-ranked team in the state of Michigan. Just a week after losing to Zeeland East 28-8 in the regular season finale, the Dux bounced back against the Chix in Round 1, putting in a gutty performance for a 42-27 victory. While this season for Zeeland West may not have been exactly what they envisioned, suffering three losses, those losses came to some heavyweight opponents - Mona Shores, GR West Catholic, and Zeeland East. Nonetheless, the Dux are right where they'd hoped to be this time of year, with a big District Final game looming. Despite playing the underdog role in this one, the Dux are well-coached and are capable of playing with anyone. Muskegon comes into this district final on cruise-control, as the Big Reds have rolled through their competition this season, outscoring them 548 -58, and only being challenged by their conference rival Mona Shores.
Zeeland West will run their infamous wing-T, a staple of their Coach John Shillito, and will have freshman QB Carson Gulker at the helm after making a change last week that got them a win over Zeeland East. The Dux will look to run the ball and chew up clock as much as they can. Muskegon boast a lethal ground-game, with an offensive line stocked with D1 prospects, a stable of fast and powerful backs, and the best dual-threat QB West Michigan has seen in some time in Mr. Football candidate La'Darius Jefferson. Muskegon is laser-focused on making a return to Ford Field to avenge their last-second one point loss in last years D3 final, and unfortunately for Zeeland West the path back to the finals goes through them. Muskegon elected to relocate the game to Grand Haven HS to avoid sloppy conditions at their home field. The artificial turf at Grand Haven should only increase the likelihood of the Big Reds running rampant on offense. Picking Muskegon to continue their undefeated roll and get the W in this one, 56-21.
DIVISION 5: Region 2 - District 1 - Grant (7-3) @ Oakridge (8-2):
These two programs come into their district final match up boasting very different pedigrees; Oakridge, the perennial powerhouse and playoff qualifier 22 of the past 23 seasons, and Grant, fresh off of their first playoff victory in school history. Oakridge is coming off of a round one throttling of conference foe North Muskegon, and seems to be firing on all cylinders at the right time. Grant earned a round one victory over their neighbor and rival Newaygo, a team that beat them just two weeks earlier. Playing in the tough West Michigan Conference, one of the best small school conferences in the state, Oakridge has been tested more this season than Grant - the Eagles only two losses came to perennial playoff qualifiers Montague and Whitehall.
Oakridge will look to their power running game to control this contest, behind a big offensive line and stable of three very good running backs. Grant should look to the air on offense more than the Eagles, with QB Trenton Throop passing for over 1000 yds on the season. Grant will need to play a stout, physical defense to hang with the Eagles in this one. The Tigers have had a great season, but I think they're going to be outmatched in this one, picking Oakridge to get the W here, 42-17.
DIVISION 6: Region 2 - District 1 - Kent City (10-0) @ Montague (10-0):
In a match up of undefeated's, Montague and Kent City will play in a rematch of last season's round one game, won by Kent City in upset fashion 20-19. Kent City will look to replicate that result in this year's district final, after a season in which both team's have improved and have high hopes of riding their undefeated regular seasons all the way to Ford Field. Montague made quick work of the tough West Michigan Conference this season, earning blowout wins in all but one game - in which they barely edged their crosstown rival and D4 playoff qualifier Whitehall. The Wildcats also earned an impressive lopsided victory over four-time D8 state champion Muskegon Catholic Central. After dominating their round one opponent Lakeview, 47-0, Montague is rolling and is hungry for their first trip to Ford Field since their 2009 D6 title. Kent City, after qualifying for the playoffs in 2016 for the first time in 14 years, has strung together an impressive undefeated season with wins over playoff qualifiers Morley-Stanwood and Vermontville Maple Valley. The Eagles bested Morley-Stanwood a second time in round one of the playoffs, 31-6. Though undefeated, Kent City has yet to see competition as strong as Montague this season and is eager to prove they're the real deal.
Montague has ridden a balanced offensive attack this season, outscoring opponents by an average of 52-7. Their sophomore running back Bryce Stark has been nothing short of dominate, amassing 1274 rush yds and 26 TDs, while QB Sebastian Archer has thrown for 1500+ yds and 15 TDs and also run for 15 TDs. The Wildcats will look to come out quick in this one and start the scoring before Kent City knows what hit them. Kent City will run a power-T offensive scheme which has been led this year by standout RB Giovanni Weeks, who has topped 1600 rush yds so far this season. A lot of eyes will be on this game in what is a stacked Division 6 playoff field. After the dominance Montague has shown against tough opponents this season, it's tough to pick against them in any contest. I'm taking the Wildcats to get the victory in this one, 49-28.
DIVISION 8: Region 3 - District 1 - Muskegon Catholic Central (8-1) @ Mendon (10-0):
The Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders are in familiar territory once again this season as they look to win their unprecedented fifth straight D8 state title.The Crusaders will take on another perennial D8 state power in the state finals in undefeated Mendon. The two teams last met in a 2014 regional final in which MCC won 48-7. Muskegon Catholic is considered the favorite by most to repeat as D8 champions this season, despite ending the season on a tough loss to undefeated Montague. The Crusaders are coming off of a 42-20 win over Decatur, in which they were challenged early but pulled away for an easy victory at the end. Mendon has cruised through their competition this season with their only close game coming against D7 qualifier Cassopolis. The Hornets cruised past their round one competition, Saint Joseph Lake MI Catholic, 28-12.
Muskegon Catholic will look to sophomore sensation QB Cameron Martinez to set the tone, as they have all season. Martinez has been thoroughly dominate this season, especially as a threat in the ground-game. The Crusaders play an extremely stingy defense, allowing just 102 points this season, 34 of which were to Montague. Mendon is looking to shake off a couple of down seasons by their standards in 2015 and 2016, and will undoubtedly be ready for Muskegon Catholic as they look to use their home field advantage in this district final. After an early scare last week against Decatur, I think the Crusaders will be ready for this one and come away with the road victory, 42-28.
RECAPPING DISTRICT FINAL PICKS:
Mona Shores 35 - GR Forest Hills Central 24
Muskegon 56 - Zeeland West 21
Oakridge 42 - Grant 17
Montague 49 - Kent City 28
Muskegon Catholic 42 - Mendon 28