Whitehall quarterback Steve Sika (left) tries to find some running room to the outside while Bradley Irwin of Grant pursues him during the Vikings’ 21-12 loss Friday night.
WHITEHALL — The Whitehall Vikings battled hard, but again fell victim to penalties and big plays surrendered in a 21-12 loss to Grant Friday night that ended their season.
Grant clinched a playoff berth with the win, while Whitehall ended the year wih a 4-5 record.
The teams came in with similar game plans, as both offensive lines looked to control the game. For the most part, the defenses were able to stop them.
“It was two tough, hard-nosed football teams,” Whitehall co-head coach Brent Sandee said. “They tried to pound it and so did we. We thought that was our best chance.”
Whitehall jumped out to a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter, capping a long drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Steve Sika to Antwan Burks. After the Tigers jumped offsides on the PAT, Whitehall tried to go for two, which fell short.
Grant responded by scoring twice to finish out the first half, but Whitehall seemed to be back into the game when the Vikings drove down the field and scored on a one-yard run by Joe Sika. A two-pointer to try the game failed after a false start penalty forced the try to take place from the seven.
Penalties, which wiped out a few long gains offensively, were again a common thread for the Vikings, who have seen at least three games now partially derailed by the yellow flag. Losses to Shelby and North Muskegon were also marred by penalties.
“It’s been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Sandee said. “I don’t know if you can necessarily coach kids to not hold or anything like that. Our kids want it so bad. When you’re playing good football teams, you can’t make mistakes.”
One key mistake the Vikings made was not a penalty, but the ensuing kickoff after they scored to pull within 14-12. Grant picked up a short kick, set up a convoy of blockers and took the kickoff back for a score that drove the game back to a two-possession game, placing the Vikings’ offense right back behind the eight-ball.
Whitehall also had a turnover issue, as Steve Sika was picked off on a deep pass and Whitehall also lost a fumble during the game.
The Vikings got the ball back twice in the final 10 minutes, but their drives went nowhere.
Joe Sika led the Vikings’ rushing attack, gaining 93 yards on 16 carries. Dontae Burks gained 84 more yards on 10 carries. Antwan Burks, usually the leader of the Whitehall backs, was held in check, gaining only 29 yards on his nine attempts. Steve Sika was four of 12 passing on mostly deeper throws as Whitehall tried to strike quickly.
“We kind of wanted to go right at them as opposed to around them,” Sandee said.
On defense, Derek Bradish had a standout performance, compiling 18 tackles. Travis Friend and Jevontae Sims each had nine.
The game was the final one for several top Viking performers, including the Sika twins, Antwan Burks, Bradish, Friend and Sims. The emotion of the moment was clear as Viking players spilled out of the locker room after the game, with several in tears as they hugged family and friends that had come out to witness their last time on the field.
“The whole team, the coaching staff, the community has been very supportive of the football program,” Sandee said. “I appreciate that here..”
Sandee said the close losses Whitehall suffered this year took a mental toll on players over the course of the season.
“It’s tough to bounce back from them,” Sandee said. “I truly believe, easily we could have been an 8-1 football team. That’s the thing about this conference and football is that anyone can beat anyone any given night. We made a few too many mistakes over the course of the year, which cost us.”
R-P tops Shores
MUSKEGON - Reeths-Puffer ended head coach Kyle Jewett’s first season on a high note with a 34-21 win over O-K Black rival Mona Shores Friday night.
It was the second straight win for the Rockets and gave them a 3-6 overall record. R-P finished fourth in the league with a 2-3 record.
On Friday, the Rockets took advantage of five turnovers by the high-powered Sailor offense, and controlled the game with a strong rushing attack led by Johndries Betts-Render, who rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, R-P came up with big plays, led by Josh Buie who was all over the field for 16 tackles including two for losses and a pass interception which set up the Rockets’ second TD.
The host Rockets opened the game with a drive which was capped by a one-yard TD run by Betts-Render.
Then, on the Sailors’ first drive, Buie intercepted a pass at midfield and returned it to the Shores’ 39.
Garrett Blanshine finished the drive with a one-yard TD run with seven seconds left in the quarter.
In the second quarter, the Sailors mounted a comeback, scoring two touchdowns plus a safety to take a 15-14 lead.
That lead was short-lived as R-P, on its next drive, scored with 22 seconds left in the half, on a 23-yard pass from Blanshine to Marquise Livers. The PAT kick made it 21-15 at half.
The home team put the game away in the third quarter on a 13-yard TD run by Julian Munday. Then, the Rockets got the ball back on a Shores fumble at the 13 and drove 87 yards on 18 plays to score on a one-yard run by Betts-Render to open the fourth quarter to give R-P a 34-15 lead.
Coming up big on defense for R-P were Dereko Riley with nine stops and DeDe Black with eight.
MONTAGUE — The freshmen rose up late for the Montague Wildcats, leading Montague to a big fourth quarter that propelled it to a 35-16 victory over Fremont.
Without the services of Brandon Moore, who sprained his toe early in the contest, the Wildcats struggled to score points the first three quarters, as the game entered the final frame tied at 13. However, a strong effort from freshman running back Zarren Aylor and freshman quarterback Jacob Buchberger sparked the Cats to 22 points in the ultimate stanza.
Zarren Aylor rushed for 136 yards on 14 carries, while Buchberger had 66 yards on just four carries. Buchberger also threw for 42 yards and a score in relief of Chris Carroll, who had 73 yards and a touchdown through the air himself.
Montague assistant coach Craig Smith said Moore’s injury was not serious and that he will play in the team’s first-round playoff game next week.
The Wildcats’ defense was no slouch, either, as Jacob Marsh led the way with 21 tackles. Montague kept constant pressure on Fremont’s front line, tallying three sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
Montague outscored the Packers 22-3 in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.
Wildcat fans curious to know who Montague will be playing and where in the first round of the MHSAA playoffs can tune into Fox Sports Detroit Sunday evening at 6:00, where a Selection Sunday show will announce all the qualifiers and first-round pairings.