Grandville ready for regional final challenge

Grandville's Jake Tipton scores a touchdown against Hudsonville.
Grandville's Jake Tipton scores a touchdown against Hudsonville.

GRANDVILLE (WOOD) — The Grandville Bulldogs football team will face perhaps its toughest test of the season Saturday when it faces unbeaten Detroit Catholic Central in a Division 1 regional final.

However, the Bulldogs’ opponent isn’t unfamiliar to them. Grandville traveled to Ypsilanti in August for a preseason scrimmage and squared off against the 11-0 Shamrocks.

“They are not unknown to us,” Bulldogs coach Eric Stiegel said. “We scrimmaged them this year so we know physically what they are. We wanted to go to a scrimmage where we thought we would be tested and we went where we felt there would be good teams and there was. I think that was a good thing for us.

“They’re as good a team as we’ve played this year. They’re a typical Detroit Catholic Central team that is well-coached and pride themselves on being physical on offense and defense.”

Grandville senior quarterback Brady Paganelli believes his team will benefit from having encountered Detroit Catholic Central earlier this season.

“We’ve seen their team, so it’s not like we’re going in there not knowing what they play like,” Paganelli said. “The scrimmage went pretty well from our standpoint so I think that gives us some confidence going into the game.”

Grandville (10-1) will travel to Detroit for the 1 p.m. showdown after finally getting over the hump of beating longtime O-K Red Conference rival Rockford. The Bulldogs earned their first district crown since 2003 with a 20-3 win over the Rams. It was their first victory over Rockford since 2005.

“Beating Rockford was a big thing for us, but more than anything at this time of the year in the playoffs, it’s about continuing your season,” Stiegel said. “It probably was the best week of practice that we’ve had the entire year, and we felt really good as coaches going into that game. It was definitely a big win for us, but it’s behind us now.”

Stiegel arrived at Grandville three years ago and was asked to turn around a program that had suffered through seven consecutive losing seasons. He has done just that, guiding the Bulldogs to three straight playoff appearances and back-to-back conference championships.

Grandville is 21-10 since Stiegel took over at the helm.

“Our kids, from Day 1, had confidence in what we were doing,” Stiegel said. “We have a very straight approach to what we do and we told them if we can do these things then we have a chance to be successful. They have a good belief in the coaching staff and in what we do on offense and defense.”

Grandville has already set a school record for points amassed in a season with 430, but its stingy defense has been the catalyst of its success. The Bulldogs have allowed a mere 55 points in 11 games. They’ve given up only a field goal in their past two state tournament wins.

“Our defensive coordinator Brian Haveman has done an outstanding job in prepping what to expect,” Stiegel said. “We have good pursuit to the ball and we tackle really well. We have tremendous team speed, and they get to the ball fast and are disciplined. We’re not fancy, but we’re physical up front and our kids run to the ball.”

Grandville’s defense helps to relieve pressure on the offense.

“We don’t like to punt, but we always trust our defense and we know we’re going to get the ball back in good field position,” Paganelli said. “This season has been fun, and the bond we have makes us a good team.”

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