HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — The end of the last season was simply unimaginable for the Hudsonville Unity Christian football team.
Holding a 45-17 lead in the third quarter of play for the Division 4 State Championship crown, it would be hard to believe any team would allow that lead to vanquish in less than two full quarters of high school football.
Add in that the Crusaders scored 803 points in 2021, breaking the previous MHSAA record of 774 points scored by Orchard View in 1999.
Yet, that night inside of Ford Field, the opposing team did what nobody thought they could.
Chelsea put together a 38-7 run, winning the game on the final play with a 33-yard field goal from senior kicker Hunter Shaw. The 28-point comeback is the biggest of any MHSAA state title game, previously held by Belding on a 19-point comeback in 1994.
Players were in shock on the Crusaders sideline as Chelsea piled on top of their kicker who just capped off a comeback that nobody thought was actually possible. The Crusaders were forced to punt for the first time all season and fumbled three times in the fourth quarter.
Calling it ‘uncharacteristic’ for a team that had the most high-powered offense in the state is an understatement.
Now, months have passed. Time has allowed the players to move on from the heartbreaking experience and practice has begun for the 2022 season.
Head coach Craig Tibbe said it was a hard finish to an unbelievable season, but the team has its sights set on what’s in front of it.
“You don’t forget about something like that, because every high school kid dreams about getting to that stage,” Tibbe said. “We were close and we lost to a good team. We’ve talked to the kids about it, it’s not on their mind all the time because they are kids, but it’s still something that drives them to be the best they can be.”
Like many other programs around the state, Unity Christian lost its fair share of seniors from the team in 2021.
The Crusaders last won a state title in 2018 when they were a part of Division 5. The 2021 squad was built for a state title, outscoring their opponents all season by an average of 45 points.
While Tibbe does believe in the group he has this season, he said it’s still too early to tell what they are capable of.
“It doesn’t mean that we get back to (the state championship game) or anything like that,” Tibbe said. “Right now it’s about simply giving our best effort and getting ready for the opener against Whitehall.”
From the players perspective, the feeling was unimaginably hard to deal with following the loss to Chelsea. However, returning senior tight end Carter Bylsma is trying to lead his team by example and use the loss as learning point for 2022.
“It was definitely hard at the end of last year, no one will deny that,” Bylsma said. “But I think now we are using it as motivation for us. We need to be better and go hard all the way through to the finish. Nothing is given to you, you have to push harder for everything.”
It won’t get any easier this season for the Crusaders in the OK Blue Conference.
After starting the season against a strong Whitehall team, the Crusaders will have to play another conference contender, West Catholic, to wrap up the regular season. They also play Coopersville, Fruitport and Spring Lake, which made the playoffs in 2021.
It’s safe to say that wins won’t be easy to come by.
“There’s a lot of talk about how tough the schedules are and there’s a lot of good football players and coaches coming in (the OK Blue),” Tibbe said. “There are experienced people, which will make for it to be very competitive. I have a feeling that we will probably be beating up on each other a little bit.”
While making it back to the state title game isn’t a lock for the Crusaders one thing is for certain: This team knows nothing can be taken for granted and every win is earned.