GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A long-standing rivalry between two successful football programs will be renewed Friday night as the opening round of the MHSAA state playoffs begins.
East Grand Rapids and Lowell will compete in a much-anticipated Division 3 predistrict game.
The two schools didn’t play each other last season for the first time since 1983.
“The respect we have for the Lowell football program is off the charts,” EGR coach Casey Longo said. “They do things the right way, and just watching them in film it’s a well-coached group and they play very hard.”
The two schools have won multiple state championships through the years and faced off every season while in the O-K White.
It’ll be the 51st meeting all-time with the EGR Pioneers holding a 34-16 edge. The last time they met in the postseason was in 2014, when the Lowell Red Arrows won a thriller 28-27.
“Not playing them last year was different and being in the O-K White with them was something special,” Longo said. “I think there is a mutual respect between both programs, and you know you’re going to get their best shot and we’re going to give them our best shot.
“It’s certainly fun in preparing and it’s a great opportunity for our kids. They are a tough team and a tough test for us so we’re going to do the best we can.”
The Pioneers (6-3) earned a spot in the state playoffs by securing their sixth win of the season last week against Wyoming.
It is EGR’s sixth consecutive appearance in the postseason, though they’ve failed to make it out of the first round the past three years.
“Obviously last week was a must win game for us and I’m happy for our kids,” Longo said. “Their hard work has paid off to play a week 10 and we’re excited to get another week with these great kids. We’ve played some high-quality football teams and I would like to think that helps us going into the playoffs.”
After 19 consecutive playoff appearances, Lowell missed out last season while struggling to a 1-8 record.
A turnaround was needed and it came to fruition as the Red Arrows made it back after beating Northview last week to finish 5-4 .
“We talked after last week’s game, that we know we have kids that are going to compete and are going to compete for four quarters,” first-year Lowell coach Jacob Henige said. “They are going to give their best to have a shot.”
Henige said he’s excited to rekindle the rivalry that has produced several great moments.
“East Grand Rapids is a great program,” he said. “It’s a big game, and it’s a huge match-up between two schools that have a long history against each other, that respect each other and know that both of them are very good.”
Lowell has improved on both sides of the ball. It surrendered a program-worst of 329 points last year while averaging less than 15 points per game.
This season, the Red Arrows have averaged 27 points per game and held opponents to 18 points per game.
“On the defensive side of the ball, they play hard and are fast and aggressive,” Longo said. “They want to run the ball and they are very physical.”
Henige believes that the Pioneers are still one of the top teams, despite their three losses to Zeeland West, Muskegon and Grand Rapids Christian.
“They lost to three teams that might be considered the best in the state and were within a touchdown,” he said. “They are very well disciplined with great players. They’re a physical football team and they don’t beat themselves.”
Muskegon Orchard View Cardinals (9-0) playoff with the Sparta Spartans (8-1)
In another interesting playoff opener, Muskegon Orchard View and Sparta will meet in Division 4.
Both teams combined for only one loss during the regular season.
Orchard View is a perfect 9-0 under first-year coach Fred Rademacher, while the upstart Sparta Spartans finished 8-1 with its lone loss coming against O-K Blue champion Catholic Central.
The Orchard View Cardinals are in the postseason for the first time since 2008 and had only one winning season in the previous nine years.
“It’s huge in my first year taking over, and I intended to make the playoffs,” Rademacher said. “It’s a great group of kids and I have a great coaching staff. We’ve focused on getting better every day and it was about getting them to buy-in with a new system on offense and defense.”
Sparta is having its best season since 2011 after several down years.
It will be the Spartans’ first playoff appearance since 2013. They had a combined 14 wins between 2014-2018.
“It’s a good football team and they are a lot like us,” Rademacher said. “They’re big and physical and pretty athletic. They are disciplined, and I expect a good football game.”