28-14 win gives Grant another shot at Oakridge
By Ken Delaat
Photos By Alexis Mercer
The stands were filling up early for this one. Two weeks ago the Lions got in with a win over the Grant team and a week later the Tigers earned their pass and the speculation was the annual battle between neighbors was going to have a sequel this year. Selection Sunday sealed it and the two teams met, this time in Newaygo, to see who would advance in this second season.
It was definitely a playoff atmosphere, The weather had turned cold and it was unlikely to get warmer but the rain was holding off for the well bundled crowd who settled in for this highly anticipated win or go home game between two talented teams.
The teams came onto the field at nearly the same time to the cheers of their respective crowds and Grant received the opening kickoff but it was mishandled and the Tigers began play on their own 12.They picked up a couple of first downs by Trent Throop and Jared Evans but the drive stalled when Freddy Hull was stopped by an Anthony Hudson hit, Dylan Moore slapped away a pass and Cooper Heinzman made a tackle for loss.
The Lions took over but couldn’t move the ball and on the punt Hull ran the return 30 yards to the Newaygo 40.5 plays and a little over 2 minutes later Evans broke through from 3 yards out for 6 with the Tyler Naffziger extra point making it 7-0 Grant.
The Lions responded with a grinding 6 minute drive featuring some pounding running by Connor Swinehart Zachary Rodriguez and Heinzman and culminating in a 1 yard plunge by Rodriguez. The PAT by Francisco Rios knotted the game at 7.
Grant put together their own 6 min drive with Throop taking it in from 13 yards out for the score and a 14-7 lead after the Naffziger conversion. The Lions churned downfield but the drive expired on a 4th down incomplete pass and the teams reached intermission with the Tigers up 7.
The second half began with the Lions going 3 and out. Grant started on their 32 and behind the running of Throop and Evans and a pair of passes to Joshua Wright and Jarrett Railing.On first and goal Evans bounced off a pair of Lion tacklers and the Tigers went up by 14 after Nafziger punched it through again.
Down 21-7 the Lions had a drive going but a fumble was recovered by Grant’s Castro and the Tigers looked to be in control.The Lion defense stepped up with a Nick Simington sack that put the Tigers back and ended in a punt two plays later.
Once again the Lions were stalled by the tenacious Tiger defense and after a 3 and out punted again. Things went bad to worse when the punt was shanked and Grant took over on the Lion 36.6 plays and a 1 yard Throop run later it was 28-7 and the Grant faithful began to sense a win.
The Lions weren’t done. They put together another drive gaining yardage in chunk until an interception gave the visitors the ball on the 5. Two plays later Simington once again broke through for a big hit, picked up the fumble, and rumbled into the end zone for 6. Rios booted it through and the score was 28-14 where it would remain.
The Tigers and their fans celebrated as the clock wound down. They won their first ever playoff game after 4 previous tries and would be moving on to face Oakridge a 38-7 winner over North Muskegon, for the District Championship. It was the Eagles who bounced Grant from the tournament last year.
For the Lions a successful 7-3 season in their first year under the tutelage of Coach Scott Van Essen and his staff and a bright future for Lion football.
For the Tigers, a little redemption for the homecoming loss to their neighbors two weeks ago.
As well as evening the record between the two teams at 34-34 since 1950.