GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the MHSAA football state playoffs begin this week, a pair of area teams have the opportunity to join elite company.
Only two teams in MHSAA history, East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison, have won five straight state championships.
The Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons and the Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders can be added to that short list. Both programs have captured four consecutive state titles and begin their bid for five Friday night.
West Catholic (7-2) hosts Berrien Springs in Division 5 play, while Muskegon Catholic Central (8-1) meets Decatur (6-3) in Division 8 action.
“It’s there, and it can’t not be there after winning four in a row, but the bigger issue is you are basically in a one-week tournament for hopefully five straight weeks,” Crusaders coach Steve Czerwon said. “So you really are trying to win the next game and nothing happens until you win the one in front of you.”
Falcons coach Joe Hyland also is focusing on his team’s postseason opener and refuses to look ahead.
“I don’t think about it and I mean that 100 percent,” Hyland said. “In discussing it, I think it’s an honor to the last five teams that have represented West Catholic and I think it’s a real tribute to those kids to do the things they have done on behalf of West Catholic football. Beyond that, we have a game on Friday and that’s where our full attention it is.”
West Catholic has suffered a pair of losses, by a combined five points, to Jackson Lumen Christi and Catholic Central, but is poised to make another lengthy run.
“I think we’ve played a really good schedule and in a really competitive conference,” Hyland said. “We’ve had some battles and good opportunities for us to get better and overcome some in-game adversity and I’m proud of the way our kids have responded to that.
“No matter what happens moving forward, I think we’re going to be a tough out and we’re going to have to play our best to win Friday. We have a nice mixture of experience and kids who are super competitive and I like that about us.”
Muskegon Catholic Central, ranked No. 1 in Division 8, enters the pre-district matchup on the heels of a rare loss.
A 27-game winning streak dating back to 2015 was snapped in its regular-season finale against Montague, 34-10.
“I don’t think you need any more motivation when you are in the playoffs and we’ve come together nicely,” Czerwon said. “We are a lot younger than we were last year. We were a very veteran team last year and we’re playing some kids who haven’t been tested in the playoffs yet, but we’ve had a heck of a run to this point and we’re very proud of the 27 games we won in a row.”
>>Inside woodtv.com: Pre-district matchups featuring West Michigan teams
HOLLAND AT MUSKEGON
Top-ranked Muskegon, which hosts Holland (6-3) Friday, enjoyed an undefeated regular season and is looking forward to making another run in Division 3.
The Muskegon Big Reds have advanced to the state finals four of the past five year.
“I’m very happy with the 9-0 season, but none of that helps you Friday night,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “Our kids have to understand that we’ve achieved parts of our goals. To get six wins, get in the playoffs, win the conference, get home field advantage and things like that. Now that we’ve done those things, we really can’t get comfortable and settle in like we’ve arrived.
“I’m very pleased with how hard the kids have played, how hard they’ve worked, how unselfish they’ve been and what great teammates they’ve been. That’s the biggest plus for us, that the kids have grown together to get to this point.”
UNITY CHRISTIAN AT GRAND RAPIDS CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-0), won a state crown last season and is ranked No. 1 in Division 4. The Cougars host Unity Christian (6-3) Friday night.
“(The top ranking) doesn’t mean anything at this point and we are in a one-game season,” Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster said. “I think our guys have a pretty good understanding of that.”
The Cougars went undefeated during the regular season for first time since 2012 and also won the O-K Blue title.
“We’ve had some really great moments, we’ve had OK moments and we’ve had bad moments, like most teams,” Kolster said. “This is one of the most interesting challenges for a group of kids I’ve ever coached, meaning we have a lot of seniors that are good players and some juniors, but we’re playing a ton of sophomores.
“I’ve never had that situation, but I think our seniors have done a good job of bringing these young guys along.”
This will be the sixth time in the last seven years that Catholic Central has faced Unity Christian in the playoffs, including last year in the state semifinals.