Editor’s note: With the high school football season set to kick off Thursday, our Frenzy team is looking at how the competition is shaping up.
This article examines the teams in the O-K Blue: Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Grand Rapids West Catholic, Allendale, Spring Lake, Sparta, Comstock Park and Coopersville.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A three-peat of state titles was beaming down the sights of the Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars last season.
After riding the ship to Ford Field and earning the crown in both 2016 and 2017, many believed the Cougars were primed to earn another in 2018.
Edwardsburg sank that ship.
In the state semifinal, the eventual state champions defeated CC 46-44 in overtime. This all came after the Cougars fought back from being down 24-0 to open the contest.
That’s not to say CC didn’t have a successful campaign. The Cougars won their fourth straight O-K Blue conference title and finished with a final record of 11-2.
Offensively, they were a powerhouse, averaging 38.6 points per game in 2018. On the defensive side of the ball, they allowed just 13.6 points per game.
With last year’s league title, CC has won four in a row. They open the 2019 season with River Rouge on Friday and begin their quest to defend their conference title Sept. 20 versus Sparta.
2018 O-K Blue conference standings:
- Catholic Central – 12-2 Overall, 6-0 Conference
- West Catholic – 5-4, 5-1
- Allendale – 5-4, 4-2
- Spring Lake – 5-4, 3-3
- Sparta – 5-4, 2-4
- Comstock Park – 1-8, 1-5
- Coopersville – 2-7, 0-6
GRAND RAPIDS WEST CATHOLIC FALCONS
After being an assistant coach at West Catholic for the last 11 seasons, Joe Michalowski has been given his chance to lead the Falcons as a head coach.
His challenge is getting the Falcons back to the playoffs, a place the program has become familiar with.
WC hadn’t lost a playoff game since 2012, meaning it had won five consecutive Division V state titles. A 41-22 loss to Unity Christian eliminated those hopes at the end of the 2018 season.
Michalowski believes coaching under Dan Rohn and Joe Hyland has prepared him to be ready for this chance.
“Pressure, for sure,” he said. “But also when you get to coach under people like Dan Rohn and Joe Hyland, you get experience like no other, king of a training. The expectations at West are always high. My job really is to have them (the players) prepared each week. The goal is to have our team set their own goals, so their goals obviously are to play through Thanksgiving, and that puts more pressure on me just to have them prepared each week to have the opportunity.”
The Falcons will return senior Spencer Zobro at starting quarterback.
He and his teammates open the 2019 campaign Thursday against Berrien Springs and then start league play Sept. 13 against Comstock Park.
When Allendale takes the field for the first time in 2019 coming off a 5-4 season, it will be greeted with the defending Division V state champion Unity Christian.
Head coach Ben Burk and company expect to enter the season with loads of different offensive talents.
“This offense won’t have one set quarterback, we simply have enough talent from that position that we want to move the kids around,” Burke said. “It could be from series to series or even in some instances play to play. It makes it hard to read an offense.”
Owen Burk, the son of Ben, will be one of four players who see time at the quarterback position. He is a verbal commit to Air Force after scoring 38 touchdowns and totaling over 3,000 yards of offense a season ago.
The Falcons will return three of their five starting offensive lineman (Jordan DeGroot, Jackson Walker and Mitch Umlor) to help defend the quarterback position.
The game against the Crusaders is scheduled for Thursday and the Falcons open conference play on Sept. 13 at home against Coopersville.
SPRING LAKE LAKERS
The Lakers ended the 2018 campaign with five consecutive losses, which is not normally something to take positives away from. But the team also started the season 5-0 and made the state playoffs for the first time under head coach Dan Start.
In 2016, Start finished with a 2-7 overall record and then regressed to a winless 0-9 campaign in 2017.
The Lakers were well on their way to a to what looked like a historic turnaround in 2018, but then quarterback Caleb Montgomery was injured. Then came opponents of a tougher margin and the season fell off the hinges.
While the team loses multiple seniors from last year, it does return senior Zach Keyser, who took Montgomery’s place after his injury.
The Lakers open the 2018 journey with hopes of getting back-to-back playoff berths at Orchard View Thursday and open league play Sept. 13 at Sparta.
In 2018, for the first time since 2013, the Spartans put together a season with a record better than .500. They managed to earn a final record of 5-4, their best win total since going 5-5 in 2013.
With only 25 players on the roster, Sparta head coach Mark Chapman says the key is to stay healthy.
“We have a group of guys that are all very close to each other and they want to win for each other,” he said. “On top of that, most players on this roster have played a lot of football. However, with our roster being small, our conditioning right now is important so we stay healthy when the end of the regular season and playoffs near.”
Senior Jakel Davis will lead the team once again. He will play both sides of the ball and will enter his fourth year under center for the Spartans.
Sparta opens the regular season with a tilt at Lansing Everett Thursday and then welcomes Spring Lake Sept. 13 to start conference play.
COMSTOCK PARK PANTHERS
When you first open up the 2018 schedule results for the Panthers, the 1-8 record stands out as a bad one. But the end results of a lot of the games offer deeper thought into what could’ve been for Comstock Park.
The Panthers lost four games by a combined 16 points: Wyoming 21-19, Allendale 42-39, Spring Lake 37-34 and Sparta 29-21.
If Comstock Park can find a way to turn those close games into victories, it could be looking at a different end result in 2019.
The defense will also need to keep opponents in check. The Panthers allowed schools to drop 30 or more tallies on them in seven games last year. The two highest scores against include 68 from Northview and 63 from Byron Center.
The Panthers get a rematch with Northview Thursday to open the season and open league play against West Catholic on Sept. 13.
While Coopersville may have wound up with a better overall record than Comstock Park, it failed to earn a league victory in 2018.
The 2-7 overall record came after the Broncos finished 6-4 in 2017 and made a run to the playoffs.
Senior quarterback Joe Keefe will return after missing a majority of last season with injury. He helped guide the Broncos to the playoffs in 2017.
Coopersville will open the season Thursday at Holland Christian and starts the conference portion of the schedule Sept. 13 at Allendale.