Grand Rapids Christian scores in final seconds to top Zeeland West in playoff opener
GRAND RAPIDS — Matt Ellis raced left and had the goal line in sight and a possible go-ahead touchdown.
But the Grand Rapids Christian senior running back was stripped of the ball, and Zeeland West senior defensive back Max Hecht fell on it at Zeeland West 17-yard line.
That appeared to be a Division 3 pre-district visiting playoff win for the Dux, because all they had to do was hold the ball for the final three minutes of the game, a feat that seemed to be attainable since Zeeland West controlled the clock to the tune of 32 minutes to just 13 minutes by Grand Rapids Christian up to the point.
But the Eagles defense forced a stop and gave the ball back to its high-powered offense with 38 seconds to play and at midfield.
That’s all Eagles junior quarterback Isaac Dykema would need, as he found junior wide receiver Darius Barfield for a 41-yard catch. He then hit senior tight end Will Peterson for a 9-yard touchdown and a 35-32 thrilling victory.
"We knew it wasn’t over until the clock struck zero," Dykema said. "Wee knew we had to fight until the end, that’s what we said, we are going to fight until the end. And we knew we could drive the final 50 yards."
Whereas Dykema and his teammates had all the confidence in the world that they would win, Grand Rapids Christian coach Don Fellow admitted that he had doubts when his Eagles turned the ball over with just over three minutes to play and down 32-27.
"We just told our kids to get one stop," Fellows said. "Just told our defense to get us the ball back and give us one more chance. And I wanted the win in the fourth quarter because if we had to kick a field goal or what not, and that helped. And then what a great throw Isaac had into the middle of the field to Barfield. And then the pass to Will, that was only his second catch of t he year."
In a game full of plays made, Zeeland West coach John Shillito needed just one more play on that one drive that could have run the clock out on the Eagles.
"I thought we had a chance there," said Shillito, whose defending Division 4 state champs end their 2016 season with a 7-3 record. "In the second half we scored both times we had the ball up to that point, but we had to milk every yard out. And it was a lot of fourth-down stuff. There, we missed a play, which we couldn’t afford to miss a play on that last series."
There was no way Friday’s game was going to be a defensive battle.
Each time these two teams met prior to Friday’s game, both in the playoffs, they scored over 80 points combined in each of those games.
The first time, 2012, Grand Rapids Christian beat the Dux 68-44 in the second round. The Eagles went on to win their only state championship that year.
The next year, Zeeland West beat the Eagles 48-35, also in the second round. That year, the Dux won the third of their four state championships.
The scoring trend continued, and possibly the state title going to the winner trend will continue as well.
"We are known for our offense, and they are definitely known for their scoring," Fellows said. "In the past seven years since we have been here and John there, we have been either one, two or three in scoring. It’s just so drastic styles between us (with Zeeland West running the wing-t offense and Grand Rapids Christian a pro-style). I get worried that our kids are going to push too much and try and keep up. Tonight I thought we were pretty efficient."
In the end, Grand Rapids Christian’s offense gained 435 yards, to 347 by Zeeland West.