Green with envy: 5 O-K Green teams qualify for postseason

Byron Center wide receiver Brayden Smith makes a 26-yard touchdown catch.
Byron Center wide receiver Brayden Smith makes a 26-yard touchdown catch.

BYRON CENTER, Mich. (WOOD) — The O-K Green Conference will be well-represented when the MHSAA state tournament kicks off Friday night.

Five of the seven football teams in the O-K Green qualified for the postseason, led by conference champion Byron Center.

“It’s fantastic,” Byron Center coach Marc Cisco said. “And not only is it five teams that made it, but it’s five teams that made it by getting six wins, so that’s a big deal.”

Joining the Bulldogs in the postseason are Unity Christian, Zeeland West, Hamilton and Zeeland East.

Hamilton, which went 1-8 last season, is back in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus. A 29-14 home win over Sparta in the regular-season finale extended the Hawkeyes’ season.

Unity Christian is in for the third straight year and sixth time in the last seven years. The Crusaders had an opportunity to share the title, however, a 40-19 loss to Byron Center doused their hopes.

The parity within the conference this season was undeniable, according to Unity coach Craig Tibbe.

“It’s been amazingly close,” he said. “I think Byron has kind of risen to the top this year and have earned their spot at the top, but you start looking at the teams below them. I even look at Holland and Holland Christian as teams we all had to really get up for and show up ready to play.

“And then you have a perennial team like Zeeland West in your conference, and now Hamilton played really well again this year. It has been a tough year all the way through, top to bottom,” Tibbe added.

Byron Center ended the reign of Zeeland West, who had captured five consecutive conference championships before this season.

The Bulldogs, who won their first conference crown since 2009, went 6-0 in conference play. Their only defeat occurred against Muskegon in week three.

“Zeeland West has been the class of the conference, but there’s always an opportunity to get knocked off on a weekly basis (in this conference),” Cisco said. “You are always in tight ball games and you just hope the big break happens against these teams.”

Byron Center’s loss to the Big Red was the only non-conference setback of the five qualifying teams.

“I think that shows that there was some pretty good football being played in this conference,” Tibbe said.

The increased parity allowed a handful of teams to still be in the mix for a conference championship over the last three weeks of the season.

“John Shilito does an outstanding job over there at Zeeland West,” Tibbe said. “He puts together a great team every year, but it was kind of fun to have a shot at it this year because before it was almost like you feel like you’re hoping to do this or that. You didn’t talk about a shot at taking first too much.”

Cisco hopes the competitiveness of the conference enables each team to find success in the playoffs.

“I think it prepares you well, just because of the competition level,” he said. “Last year, we played Division 2 and knocked of highly-ranked Portage Central, and we played quite well against Lowell. Zeeland West and Unity went to the regional finals last year against each other, and we went to regional finals a couple years ago. It shows that most of the time in the last few years, OK Green teams have had success in the playoffs.”

Byron Center (8-1) hosts Zeeland East (6-3) in its Division 3 playoff opener. The Bulldogs routed the Chix 62-14 on Oct. 14.

Here’s a look at the other playoff matchups involving OK Green teams:

  • Division 3: Zeeland West (7-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (8-1)
  • Division 3: Hamilton (6-3) at Edwardsburg (9-0)
  • Division 4: Three Rivers (7-2) at Unity Christian (7-2)