GRAND RAPIDS (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids West Catholic football team is making a bid to accomplish a rare feat in terms of high school football in Michigan.
Only a handful of teams have won four consecutive MHSAA titles, and if the Falcons want the opportunity to join that elite group, they must pass perhaps their toughest test of the season in Friday’s Division 5 district final.
West Catholic (8-2) heads east to face unbeaten Portland (10-0).
“They’re a very good team,” Falcons first-year head coach Joe Hyland said. “I saw them in person and walked away saying that they might be arguably the best, or one of the best three teams in the tournament, I believe.”
The last time these two teams met was in 2013, when the Falcons ended the Red Raiders’ season in pre-districts. West Catholic went on the road and posted a 27-13 win en route to a state championship.
The previous year, Portland won the title with a 12-9 victory over the Falcons in the Division 5 final at Ford Field. It was the last and only time West Catholic has suffered a loss in the state title game.
This will be the fifth all-time meeting between the Division 5 powerhouses and Hyland said his team will have to step up to the challenge.
“They’re 10-0, they’re well-coached and the things they do work,” Hyland said. “If we don’t play our best then we’re not going to be here next week preparing for the third round.”
Portland, the CAAC White champion, averages 38 points per game and its defense has limited opponents to fewer than 12 points per game.
What has impressed Hyland the most is the Red Raiders’ ability to maintain possession and chew up clock.
“They have an offense similar to Zeeland West,” Hyland said. “They hold onto the football a long time as they gash people down the field. We can’t allow that to happen. We’ve gotten away with winning sloppy at times and we can’t do that on Friday night otherwise it will be the end of the season.”
West Catholic suffered a pair of losses in the regular season to Zeeland West and Allendale and hasn’t been as consistent on offense as in past years. It’s an aspect that must change, according to Hyland.
“We can’t play sporadic on offense, which is the way it has gone,” said Hyland, whose team used four turnovers to knock off Lansing Catholic in the pre-district. “We have to be efficient on offense, move the chains with first downs and end with points. If we do those three things we will be in a good situation to win the game.”
West Catholic has an advantage in terms of experience. It has several players, including senior David Fox, who have played in pressure games during the program’s three-year run.
“The further along in the season, and into the playoffs, you can tell how some kids have had baptism by fire the last few years by playing in big games and close games,” Hyland said. “They are typically the kids who come up with the big plays.
“Our kids know at this point that this is it. With every day, the clock is ticking more so than it was during the regular season. That’s true for every team still in the tournament, but we’ve gone week to week getting to know each other and we’ve grown together. There’s no reason not to do the things we’re capable of doing.”