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Predictions for the second round of the state playoffs: Zeeland West faces tall task against top-ranked Muskegon

By: Tom Markowski, November 2, 2017, 10:10 am

Zeeland – John Shillito has faced many obstacles in his 36 seasons as a high school football coach but there might be none as great as the one he and his Zeeland West team face this week.

The Royal Oak native has been a head coach 34 seasons, the last 13 at West. Shillito is the only coach West has had in its brief history. He’s turned programs around, like the one at Comstock Park where Shillito first became a head coach in 1982. Comstock Park was 2-7 in 1979, ’80 and ’81. The Panthers went 5-4 in ’82, 10-1 the following season and 6-3 in ’84.

He’s won state titles and lost in state finals. At East Kentwood he guided the Falcons to their only state-final appearance (2002). Muskegon Orchard View has been to a state final three times (1995, ’99 and ‘04), twice with Shillito as head coach.

At West Shillito has coached four state championship teams, the last one in 2015. In ’14 West lost in a Division 3 semifinal to Muskegon, 20-0.

And even though this is just the second week of the playoffs, the district final round, should Shillito find a way to guide his team into a region final it might be his most impressive victory to date.

West (7-3) will take on top-ranked Muskegon (10-0) in a Division 3 district final at Grand Haven on Friday at 7 p.m.

Muskegon is led by a State Champs Mr. Football candidate, quarterback La’darius Jefferson (6-2, 210). He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes, rushed for 19 touchdowns and last season he was instrumental in Muskegon’s run to the state final. Jefferson committed to Central Florida.

Muskegon’s success begins with Jefferson but he’s just one of a number of fine players. The Big Reds have a massive offensive and defensive line, and sport a number of other players, like C.J. Jefferson (no relation) and Davion McCall, who have the ability to make big plays on both sides of the ball, and as kick returners.

“The difference from this Muskegon team and others is that they are big and more athletic,” Shillito said. “It’s a great challenge. We can scheme for them but can we execute? Just being able to block them, which is what we depend on to be successful.

“The credit goes to their coaches. They do a good job of getting those athletes to play with discipline.

“They make big plays. It’s hard to contain that. But you have to go after them. We have to go after them. The big play is so much a part of what they do. You want them to put it on the ground (fumble) sometimes.”

We mustn’t sell the Dux short. They lost to three good teams this season including Muskegon Mona Shores and Grand Rapids West Catholic. The other was Zeeland East, a team West lost to, 28-8, in the regular season finale. Last week West turned the tables. The Dux led 20-7 at halftime and won, 42-27.

Many were pointing to a matchup this week of two unbeaten teams (East finished 9-1). Shillito didn’t apologize.

“We played much better this time,” he said of the rematch. “We (forced) a couple of turnovers. Their quarterback (Keegan Ensing) is terrific. The first time we probably didn’t pay enough attention to him. (Ensing) must have had 160 yards rushing and 200 passing. He had over 300 passing (372) this time but that was on 42 attempts. And we had three interceptions. We put more pressure on him. We emptied our secondary.”

West made its share of big plays, especially in the first half as sophomore fullback Chase Peddie had touchdown runs of 75 and 86 yards, and West had an interception in the end zone. Peddie and Aaron Sleeman each had three touchdown runs.

Peddie’s grandfather, Don Peddie, was the offensive backfield coach at Central Michigan when Shillito played there.

Defensively, the Dux are led by linebackers Sleeman and Ross Bolman, and tackle Luke Johnson. Johnson (5-9, 190) isn’t a big lineman but resembles a wrestler playing football; quick and physical. Pick: Muskegon by 16.


All district finals are Friday at 7 p.m. unless noted.


Division 1


Canton (9-1) at Belleville (10-0): Belleville hasn’t played the schedule that Canton was and it’s not certain if Belleville’s defense, which has been its most consistent unit, can handle the power and precision of Canton’s T-formation set. Canton by 9. 


Detroit Cass Tech (7-2) at Dearborn Fordson (9-1): Cass Tech’s offense is a work in progress. At times the Technicians can move the ball effectively. Fordson, like Belleville, has not played a difficult schedule. That could come into play here. Pick: Cass Tech by 6.


Rochester Adams (9-1) vs. Utica Eisenhower (10-0) at Utica High: Jack Morris is scheduled to get his fourth start at quarterback for Eisenhower. He replaces Max Wittwer (knee injury) who is not expected to play this week. The Eagles have played well despite the loss of Wittwer but this could be the biggest test they’ve faced all season. Adams has balance offensively and has played sound defense all season. Pick: Eisenhower by 4. 


Rockford (7-3) at Holland West Ottawa (9-1): West Ottawa defeated Rockford, 35-30, on Oct. 6. Other than that game, and the 30-24 overtime loss to Muskegon Mona Shores, Rockford’s defense has been solid. It’s difficult to beat a Ralph Munger-coached team twice in a season. Pick: Rockford by 4.


Division 2


Detroit East English Village Prep (9-1) at Detroit King (9-1), 5: King defeated East English, 21-0, two weeks ago in the Detroit Public School League title game. This game will likely be closer but I can’t envision King allowing many points here. Pick: King by 12.


Muskegon Mona Shores (9-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (10-0): This has the makings of a classic. Mona Shores has had one slip up, if you can label its 35-24 loss to top-ranked Muskegon that. Central reached a region final last season and since its 30-27 victory over West Ottawa in week two, the closest any team has come to the Rangers was Cedar Springs (35-20) three weeks ago. Pick: Mona Shores by 3.


Traverse City Central (7-3) at Traverse City West (9-1): West snuck past Central, 29-27, in week three in a game where both defenses were back on their heels. As is the case with the West Ottawa-Rockford matchup, it’s difficult to beat a good team, especially a rival, twice in a season. Pick: Central by 3.


Division 3


Riverview (9-1) at Gibraltar Carlson (9-1): Here are two teams that like to run the ball and establish their superiority on the line of scrimmage. Riverview defeated Trenton, 34-7, last week and in week two Carlson got the better of Trenton, 42-14. Not much difference here. These teams haven’t played each other since the 1992 season when Carlson was a member of the Huron League. Pick: Carlson by 2.


Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-0) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (10-0): The defending state champions are undefeated yet have to play on the road in the second round, against a team they’ve never played before. It’s all about playoff points. This could be closer than many would have predicted before the state of the playoffs. Pick: C.C. by 8.


River Rouge (8-2) at Chelsea (9-1): These teams met in the 2016 opener with River Rouge taking a 34-16 decision before it was ruled the Panthers used an ineligible player prompting a forfeiture. Chelsea has played the more adventurous schedule but it’s not certain the Bulldogs are ready for a team with the athleticism of a River Rouge. Pick: River Rouge by 5.


Division 5


Lansing Catholic Central (8-2) at Portland (9-1): These Capital Area Athletic Conference foes met in the 2011 and ’15 playoffs, and Catholic Central won both. Portland defeated the Cougars, 35-6, on Sept. 22. Portland hasn’t won a district title since 2012, the season the Red Raiders won the Division 5 title. Pick: Portland by 7.


Menominee (7-3) at Kingsford (8-1): Here’s another rematch. Kingsford took down Menominee, 42-21, on Oct. 13 and there’s no reason to pick against the Flivvers here. Pick: Kingsford by 8.


Division 6


Detroit Central (8-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (10-0): This should be a dandy. Quarterback El Julian Jordan is sure to put up some impressive numbers for Central. Looking at Michigan Collegiate, two games stick out. The Cougars defeated Walled Lake Central, a Division 1 playoff team, 28-15, and defeated Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (26-21), which is playing for a Division 4 district title. Not sure Collegiate has seen the likes of Jordan and watching film can only convey so much. Pick: Central by 5.


Kent City (10-0) at Montague (10-0): Montague won back-to-back titles in 2008-09 and this looks to be the Wildcats’ best team since. Kent City defeated Montague, 20-19, in a district final last season and that loss will only fuel the Wildcats’ spirit. Pick: Montague by 12.


Maple City Glen Lake (7-2) vs Traverse City St. Francis (9-1) at Thirlby Field, Sat., 1: Here’s yet another rematch. Glen Lake reached the Division 6 final last season and put a hurt on Boyne City (28-7) last week. Boyne City defeated St. Francis, 19-13, during the regular season. But eight weeks ago St. Francis dealt Glen Lake a 35-9 setback. Pick: St. Francis by 8.


Division 7


Pewamo-Westphalia (9-1) at New Lothrop (10-0): The playoff schedule-maker didn’t do the defending state champions any favors. Pewamo-Westphalia lost the lower divisions’ best running back (Jared Smith) to graduation this past June but the Pirates have barely missed a beat. They lost their opener, 28-21, to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and since then the Pirates have allowed 37 points. These teams have met once, in 2013, and New Lothrop won, 47-33. Pick: Pewamo-Westphalia by 6.     


Division 8


Climax-Scotts (8-2) at Pittsford (9-1): Pittsford recorded a shutout last week and Climax-Scotts gave up 62 points but scored 84! Something has got to give. Pittsford won, 28-14, on Oct. 13 to clinch the South Central Athletic Association title. Climax-Scotts leads the series, 17-4. Pick: Pittsford by 2.


Muskegon Catholic Central (9-1) at Mendon (10-0), Sat., 1: C.C. has won 12 state titles, one shy of the record held by Farmington Hills Harrison. The season (1974) before the start of the playoffs the Crusaders were 9-0. Mendon has won 11 state titles. C.C. leads the series 5-2. Pick: C.C. by 11.


Last week’s record: 22-9

2017 record: 83-40