WEST-SIDE PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK: Can GRCC three-peat? Will East Kentwood break GR’s D1 hex? Rockford … again?
There is no shortage of intriguing story lines for Grand Rapids-area football teams as the state tournament kicks off this weekend.
For starters, you’ve got Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Grand Rapids West Catholic trying to add to the combined seven state championships the teams have won since 2013.
You’ve got a streaking East Kentwood club trying to break the area’s drought of producing its first state championship in Division 1 since 2009.
And you’ve got the drama of a potential second round matchup between rivals Zeeland West and Zeeland East, how far a punishing Cedar Springs defense will take that team and Rockford managing to qualify for the playoffs for a 24th consecutive season despite winning only five games.
For the full playoff bracket, CLICK HERE.
For a preview notebook from the Northern-Central region, CLICK HERE.
For a preview notebook from the East Side, CLICK HERE.
Here are the best story lines as West-Side teams prepare for the tournament:
BEST BET TO WIN A STATE TITLE — Grand Rapids Catholic Central has won the last two Division 4 state titles, but may not be the favorite this year. Still, the Cougars are 8-1, riding a seven-game winning streak and have quality wins against Zeeland East (17-13) and rival West Catholic (24-14). Catholic Central has won 10 straight tournament games and is 12-1 in the post-season since 2015. Catholic Central opens against Spring Lake and may not collide with a real power until the regional finals. The Cougars have gone 35-2 the last three seasons and know how to win big games.
For our panel’s picks of the top 20 first-round games, CLICK HERE.
For the final regular-season top 25 ranking, CLICK HERE.
JUST HAPPY TO BE IN — West Catholic has won five straight state championships under two different head coaches, but will be hard pressed to claim a sixth. Still, despite the heavy graduation losses from a year ago, the Falcons will at least have the chance. The team needed a 43-10 win over Coopersville last Friday to get in with a 5-4 record. No team has been better in November the last eight years with an absolutely remarkable 37-2 record in the tournament since 2010.
IS THE HEX HISTORY? — The Grand Rapids area has not produced a state champion in Division 1 since Rockford knocked off Lake Orion 26-14 in 2009. In fact, no Grand Rapids team other than Rockford has won a title in Division 1/ Class A since Grandville captured a Class A championship in 1996. Can the Falcons break that streak? Helped by as many as four Division 1 kids on the roster, East Kentwood romped through the O-K Red, beating six conference foes by an average of more than 30 points per game. It won’t be easy as a tough second round game with Saline (8-1) looms, not be mention having to top Brighton (7-2) in the opener.
FRIENDLY RIVALS — It may not rise to the level of a Michigan player trying to stomp out a painted Michigan State logo at midfield or the Spartans marching through the Wolverines’ pre-game workout, but make no mistake Zeeland West and Zeeland East are serious about their rivalry. The Dux and the Chix could meet in the district finals if they get by openers this week. Zeeland West is 10-6 against East since the district split into two schools 13 years ago, but here’s a real interesting nugget about the rivalry. Three times since 2012, Zeeland West has avenged a regular season loss to East by beating the Chix in the playoffs, the last time coming a year ago when East won the regular season game 28-8 only to lose to West 42-27 in the district. Zeeland East won this year’s meeting 48-34.
SURPRISING RAMS ARE IN … AGAIN — It was 1994 and eggs could be had for 87 cents a dozen, gas was a doable $1.11 a gallon, you could secure a postage stamp for 29 cents and Rockford’s football team struggled to a 3-6 season. It would be the last time the Rams would fail to make the state tournament for the next 24 years. Rockford again qualified for the postseason this season despite starting 1-3. The Rams not only reeled off four wins in their final five games, they came within a four-point loss to Holland West Ottawa and a tough 28-17 road loss to East Kentwood from winning an O-K Red title. November has traditionally belonged to Ram teams as they’ve played multiple tournament games 20 times in the last 23 years.
YOU DON’T WANT TO PLAY US, OR DO YOU? — It’s not unusual for Grand Rapids Christian to find itself alive after all the Halloween candy has been consumed and costumes packed away for another year. The Eagles took care of business with a 7-2 record, including wins in seven of their last eight games. Along the way, Christian’s defense allowed just 148 points, the fewest since giving up 113 in 2004, while beating fellow playoff teams East Grand Rapids and Middleville in the last three weeks. On the surface it seems like anyone drawing the Eagles would be, well … concerned. But Grand Rapids Christian is just 3-5 in the tournament since winning a state championship in 2012.
THE MUSKEGON JINX — Okay, jinx might not be the right word, but the reason Grand Rapids hasn’t been more successful in the Division 3 state tournament rests about a half hour to the northwest. Grand Rapids teams typically run into Muskegon in the second or third round of the tournament, collisions that virtually always leave Grand Rapids team preparing for the basketball season. Muskegon is 23-5 in the postseason, including 12-1 versus O-K Conference teams, since 2012. With the Big Reds playing in five state championship games over that span, there has been no need for local teams to make hotel reservations for Detroit. It’s definitely status quo this season as many consider unbeaten Muskegon the top team in the state regardless of division.
WILL DEFENSE DO IT? — You’ve seen the quaint little signs in the stands a thousand times. Someone holds up the letter "D" painted on one sign while his neighbor holds up a picture of a fence. Get it? That’s right: Defense. Well, that’s exactly what Cedar Springs will be banking on when it hosts Gaylord this weekend. And it might not be a bad bet. The Red Hawk defense has surrendered a measly 95 points this season, the fewest the program allowed since opponents scored 81 points in an eight-game schedule in 1969. Of those 95 points, 21 came against unbeaten Saginaw Swan Valley, whose closest other game was a 41-20 win over St. Johns. And if timing is critical, Cedar Springs closed out the regular season with a bang in outscoring Lowell, Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills and Forest Hills Northern by a combined 138-0.