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Four-loss Grand Rapids area teams to test playoff waters

By: Jeff Chaney, October 30, 2014, 11:10 am




    When asked, several Grand Rapids area coaches couldn’t remember a stranger, but interesting regular season.

    Call it parity amongst the OK Conference divisions. Call it great coaching amongst the ranks of high school teams in West Michigan, or call it luck. But the season had a lot of incredible performances, some disappointing ones, and many surprising results.

   Parity was never more evident when the playoff pairings were announced on Sunday, and seven OK Conference teams made the playoffs at 5-4.

   To automatically qualify for the state playoffs, a team must earn six wins during the nine-week regular season. A 5-4 team can make it as an additional qualifier, which is based on playoff points. There 27 additional qualifiers this season, four fewer than in 2013.

   Of the seven from the OK, three came from the rugged Red Division – Hudsonville, Grandville and Holland West Ottawa – and all three will be competing in Division 1.

   “Isn’t that incredible,” Hudsonville coach Dave Lidgard said. “The OK Red this year was very balanced, from top to bottom. Grand Haven is not a bad a team, and they are the only one that didn’t make it out. Here we are 2-3 in the league and in the playoffs, I can’t explain it. We feel fortunate. We knew it would be iffy.”

    On Friday the Eagles will play at West Ottawa, a team they beat 45-0 in week eight – another odd scenario from this strange season.

   “Isn’t that interesting,” Lidgard said. “You beat a team by a pretty good score and then have to go back to West Ottawa and play them again. West Ottawa is not a bad team. They did struggle down the stretch, but early on they were one of best teams in the area. Now to have to go back to their place and play them again. I’m sure they are motivated, saying look at what they did to us the last time on our own field. We need to maintain an edge.”

    Grandville will play at OK Red champion East Kentwood on Saturday at 1 p.m. The last time these two teams met in week four, East Kentwood won an exciting 39-38 game against the upstart Bulldogs, the same Bulldogs that went 2-7 last year.

    “They led for the last 40 seconds of the first game, and that was it,” Grandville coach Eric Stiegel said. “They, in my opinion, were the best team we played all year, and that includes Muskegon. They are a team, when you look at them, there are not a lot of holes. If we come to play like we have, we have a good chance to win.”

    That’s what’s makes the OK Red so formative. There aren’t any off weeks. If a team makes the playoffs out of the Red, they’ve earned it.

    “When you look at our teams out of conference, we were are all pretty good,” Stiegel said. “We only had one loss out of the (division), and it was against Canton by West Ottawa, and Canton is a pretty good football team. The league was super tough, and I never played a schedule like this one this year in my life.”

    Stiegel is in his first season at Grandville. Last season he was the head coach at Taylor Truman.

    Sometimes 5-4 records come from playing such a tough schedule, and sometimes bad luck and injuries play a part.

    Grand Rapids Christian, the 2012 Division 3 champion, is in at 5-4. The Eagles played six playoff teams: Muskegon, East Grand Rapids, Lowell, Hudsonville, Caledonia and Grand Rapids South Christian.

    But G.R. Christian also sustained an injury that could have derailed its season. Quarterback Patrick Hall suffered a broken arm, an injury that required hospitalization for three weeks.

    Coach Don Fellows says losing Hall was a major blow to a team that was playing a demanding schedule.

   “He almost lost his arm,” Fellows said. “We had to have a counselor come in and have a session with the kids. He was the heart and soul of the team, and it was almost like he passed away because he was not around. I don’t want to be that dramatic, but it was an interesting three weeks.”

   The Eagles will play at 8-1 St. Johns on Friday at 7 p.m. and Fellows said his team is ready to start the second season with a fresh slate, even without Hall.

   “I equate (St. Johns) as being a similar team to Lowell,” Fellows said. “It’s a great wrestling school, and they are very strong and physical. It’s not the greatest matchup for us, but the kids will be ready.

   “We have played six teams that are ranked in top 10 in the state in their division, and I’m not sure how many schools can run a gauntlet like that, be healthy and run the table. We played a really tough schedule and we got into playoffs. We have been in almost every game but two. Now we need to regroup and sees what happens.”

   The other area playoff games involving 5-4 teams are all in Division 4 on Friday at 7. Comstock Park is at Cadillac (9-0), Allendale will play South Christian (7-2) at Byron Center and Hudsonville Unity Christian plays G.R. Catholic Central (6-3) at G.R. Christian.

   It’s been an interesting regular season. Now it’s time to see how weird the playoffs will be.