Tough schedule, defense help GR Christian advance past St. Johns
St. Johns — Having played six playoff teams during the regular season, Grand Rapids Christian’s 5-4 record entering the postseason was somewhat deceiving.
But with a clean slate to the start the Division 3 playoffs, Christian played like a team confident that it can extend its season a few more weeks.
Senior tailback Malik McLaughlin scored two touchdowns Christian’s defense, led by senior linebacker Jack Bates and senior defensive lineman Noah Nedd, helped contain the St. John’s running game and the Eagles advanced to a district final with a 21-13 victory on Friday.
Christian will play at Lowell (9-1), a 28-27 winner over East Grand Rapids, next Friday at 7.
Christian, which led 7-6 at halftime, scored twice in the third quarter. McLaughlin’s 2-yard run with 8:31 left capped a 65-yard drive that was helped by a St. Johns penalty on a fourth-and-4 at the Christian 41. Key plays in the series included pass plays of 22 and 18 yards from junior quarterback Lukas Thompson to McLaughlin and senior tight end Alex Bos, respectively.
After the teams traded possessions, Christian then took advantage of excellent field position after downing a St. Johns punt at the Redwings’ 15. Five plays later Thompson ran untouched into the end zone to give the Eagles a 21-6 lead with 2:30 left in the quarter.
"We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game but we felt our schedule had prepared us for it," said Christian coach Don Fellows. "Field position was huge. I credit coach Irv Sigler for making sure we took our timeouts in the third quarter so we kept the wind at our backs."
Nedd and Bates had 12 tackles each for Christian, which also had standout efforts from Q’iantae Ewing (10 tackles) and Tyler Lamica (8 tackles).
For St. Johns (8-2) senior running back Angus Arthur scored on runs of 23 and eight yards and had 164 yards on 32 carries.
"Our defense has been tough all year but tonight wasn’t easy," Fellows said. "We had to defend against the trap, their quarterback could run well and we had to be aware of the big tight end (6-foot-6, 230-pound Austin Ervin). We had to defend inside and out."
Thompson led Christian with 120 yards on 21 carries while McLaughlin carried 19 times for 92 yards.