GRAND RAPIDS (WOOD) — The football teams from Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Hudsonville Unity Christian have seen a lot of each other during the postseason in recent years.
The two programs will meet again this season and the stakes will be as high as they have ever been.
The winner of Saturday’s Division 4 state semifinal at Greenville High School between the Catholic Central Cougars and Unity Christian Crusaders will advance to the state final at Ford Field.
Catholic Central and Unity have met four times in the last five years in the state tournament, with each team winning twice.
The Cougars knocked off the Crusaders in 2011 and 2012, while Unity has returned the favor the past two years with a pair of tight wins in district play.
“It has been extremely competitive the past few years and it’s gone down to the wire,” Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster said. “The first two times we beat them in the last minute and the last two years they beat us in the last minute or so. It’s just two good teams with tough and smart kids that play hard.”
The Cougars, who finished in a three-way tie for first in the O-K Blue, have been dominant on defense since suffering their only loss to rival Grand Rapids West Catholic on Oct. 14.
Since then, Catholic Central has shut out three of its last four opponents and allowed only one touchdown.
“Our defense has really played well all year, even against West Catholic,” Kolster said. “Our defense gave us a chance against West Catholic and if we didn’t have good defense, we would’ve gotten beaten worse. They have played very good football all year, and we’ve really played good defense every year I’ve been here.”
Unity Christian coach Craig Tibbe saw Catholic Central’s defensive prowess first-hand during the Cougars’ regional final win over Escanaba.
“Defensively, they come and attack,” Tibbe said. “They love to hit and they’re fun to watch, but I just wish we didn’t have to play them this week and see that tough of a defense.
“We have played them four times, and the one thing I took away from those games is how well coached they are. I’ve been impressed with that,” he continued.
Catholic Central has recorded its most wins (11) since 2010, when it won a Division 4 state title.
Meanwhile, Unity has already established a new school record for wins (10) and is in the midst of its deepest state tournament run.
“They’re very good, and they have been all year long,” Kolster said. “To go through the schedule that they had and to come out with only a couple losses says a lot. I think the one things they never get enough credit for is how good they are on defense. Not too many people score on them.”
Both teams also possess high-scoring offenses. Unity runs the wing-T with quarterback Mitch Dykstra and a stable of punishing running backs, while Catholic Central has a slew of playmakers.
“We watched them in person and I walked away a little nervous,” Tibbe admitted. “They have a couple kids, Michael Brown and Antonio Strong, who are just flat-out dangerous. They can take a ball and score quickly. Our kids are really going to have to be sharp.”
Here is a list of the other semifinal matchups involving area teams:
- Division 2: Walled Lake Western (11-1) vs. Lowell (12-0) at Brighton 1 p.m.
- Division 3: Edwardsburg (12-0) vs. Muskegon (11-1) at East Kentwood 1 p.m.
- Division 5: Algonac (11-1) vs. West Catholic (10-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek 1 p.m.
- Division 7: Detroit Loyola (10-2) vs. Cassopolis (11-1) at Jackson 1 p.m.
- Division 8: Muskegon Catholic Central (12-0) at St. Ignace (11-1) at Petoskey 1 p.m.