ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Coming off a 2020 season where COVID-19 limited attendance at high school football games, Hudsonville and Catholic Central couldn’t be starting 2021 on a bigger stage.
The Cougars and Eagles are set to play in the Battle at the Big House, where teams from the east and west side of the state compete at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
Hudsonville will take on Saline at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 27, while Catholic Central clashes with Lapeer at 12 p.m. Aug. 26, both perennial powers in that part of the state.
Eagles head coach Brent Sandee couldn’t be more thrilled they get to represent football in West Michigan in front of what should be a playoff-type atmosphere in week one.
“We get to show the state what Hudsonville football is all about,” Sandee said. “We feel blessed with the opportunity to play there. Some of the coaches and myself were there Thursday to walk through the venue and get a feel for it. We’re excited to see ourselves with some of the best teams in the state over there.”
Hudsonville has been close to reaching the state finals the past two seasons but hasn’t quite been able to break the barrier into Ford Field. In 2019 they fell to Brighton in the semifinals 35-20 and a season ago lost in the second round to Rockford in a 42-7 blowout.
Regardless, the Eagles have been 20-11 under Sandee and have made the playoffs the past three seasons.
Senior star wide receiver Dylan Ham has more experience than most players on the roster and looks to be the leader for the Eagles this season. He had six total touchdowns (four receiving, two rushing) with 504 yards receiving and 180 yards on the ground a season ago.
While Ham has seen some full stadiums in his career, he imagines the Big House is a whole different setting to play a football game.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us to keep emotions in check playing in a stadium like that,” Ham said. “That’s where I hope I can get these guys ready to go and show our best there.”
For Catholic Central, playing in a professional stadium is nothing new to the program.
The Cougars are ramping up for a third consecutive run at a state title in 2021, while they have won four championships in the last five years.
Head coach Todd Kolster said his guys are mostly excited to play a team like Lapeer who presents good early competition.
“Lapeer is a really good football team so that’s really what I think our guys are excited about this early on,” Kolster said. “I know Lapeer is excited to play us because they think we are pretty good too. I’m the preifriel, I think you’ll look back and say this was pretty cool. But at the moment I think it’ll be more about beating one another.”
While the Cougars have had a multitude of recent successes and do return a few key players, they are filling a lot of holes at skill positions and in the trenches up front, offensively and defensively.
One of those returning players is senior Swiss Army knife John Passinault, starting at wide receiver, free safety and punt returner. He says this will be a new type of crowd life for his younger teammates.
“I’ve never been to the big house before,” Passinault said. “Ford Field is the only environment I’ve played in like that. With no restrictions on fans, it will be completely different from a season ago.”
This is the fourth year the Battle at the Big House has taken place.
Kolster would like to see the event continue into the future.
“We’re trying to finalize our schedule and we just needed week one to be set, Lapeer happened to be open,” Kolster said. “I think this is great. It’s hard to find games, I think it would be great to continue something and get some continuity for sure.”