Cat fight looming as Lions and Tigers look to move on to District final
“We are excited about the opportunity play Grant again and I'm sure they are excited to play us also. They know us and we know them and I'm sure it will be a great game.”- Newaygo Head Coach Scott Van Essen
“The coaching staff is extremely happy for the boys. Their hard work and dedication throughout the season and during the offseason has allowed them to make the state playoffs " back to back" for the first time in school history. We are also excited to play Newaygo in the first round. They are a well coached football team and it should be a great matchup.”- Grant Head Coach Darren Geraghty
And here we are.
Two teams with a lengthy legacy of doing battle that traces back far into the previous century.
Going into this season the teams were dead even since 1950 with each besting the other on the gridiron 33 times.
Two weeks ago the Lions edged ahead with win number 34 the victory on the home field of the Tigers that sent them into the playoffs. A week later Grant punched its playoff ticket by taking down Ravenna.
And now it’s playoff time and these two teams who are well acquainted with each other and geographic neighbors will be lacing them up and taking the field to go at it one more time.
You can look at the records this year. Both lost to Reed City at home and Chip Hills on the road. Both swept through the remainder of their conference schedule and both posted victories in their two non conference games.
These are teams that are driven by their play in the trenches. Teams that rely on a strong running attack and an opportunistic passing game. Jared Evans and Cooper Heinzman can bust for big yardage when given some room and QB’s.Trent Throop and Connor Swinehart can do harm on the ground or in the air.
When they met two weeks ago the Tigers lost a pair of scoring opportunities to untimely penalties and big defensive plays from the Lions. Once Newaygo got the lead they grinded out yardage eating up clock and keeping Grant’s offense off the field.
In the end Newaygo prevailed but from the press box these teams looked pretty evenly matched.
There has been one playoff game between the schools 5 years ago but there was no regular season contest that year. It was during Newaygo’s magical 2012 season when the Lions powered their way into the Regionals, a tournament run that began with a victory over their longtime rivals.
After that win I was standing by a group of Lion fans and someone remarked that the end of the road was probably ahead since the following week Newaygo had to go to Reed City and face the Coyote team that had hung their only loss of the season on them, a convincing 35-7 spanking.
Former Sheriff Mike Mercer was among that crowd and replied “I wouldn't be so sure, it’s awfully hard to beat a good team twice in the same season.”
The Lions went north and came home with a season defining win.
This one should be a classic. Two weeks removed from their last meeting should leave few surprises for the teams. They know the strengths and vulnerabilities of their opponent and know what it takes to defeat them.
They will strive to play penalty free but there will be a lot of emotions on the field tonight (as well as in the stands) and it could come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.
Either way, tonight you can throw all the stats and analytics and predictions and previous matchups out the window because, after all, it is Newaygo and Grant.
"The Game" Part II.
Here we go!