BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — What a difference a couple years can make.
Two years ago, the Belding football team was not playing at this time of the season. In fact, the Black Knights didn’t even sniff the state playoffs after limping through a frustrating 2015 season that included only one win.
The following season, Belding improved and used a five-game winning streak to advance to the postseason before bowing out in pre-districts against Ithaca.
The turnaround has come full circle as the Black Knights are currently enjoying their best season in nearly 20 years and will play for a Division 4 regional championship Friday night against defending state champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
“This is group of 14 seniors we brought up two years ago as sophomores and they went 1-8 and kind of struggled through the year,” Belding coach Joe Schwander said. “It’s been a hard road for them, but I think they are reaping the rewards now at this time and I’m just happy and excited for them, for our kids and the community.”
Belding enters the regional final with a 9-2 overall mark with its only losses coming against Lakewood (44-43) and O-K Silver Conference champion Kelloggsville (28-3).
The team’s nine wins are its most since 1998, when Belding went 12-1 and lost in the Class B state title game to Chesaning.
“I don’t think you mark how far you are going to get, but we definitely felt like we had a good football team,” Schwander said. “We have a good mix. Our secondary is two sophomores, a freshman and a junior and our backfield is similar. But we are senior-heavy and we follow their leadership.”
Top-ranked Catholic Central (11-0) has won 17 straight games with its last loss coming against West Catholic last season in Week 8.
The Cougars defeated Kelloggsville 45-34 last week to earn their district championship.
“They are very talented at most all positions and they are the most complete team that we have played yet,” Schwander said. “They will give us our greatest test this far, but it is a regional championship game and that’s how it should be. Our kids are excited about the challenge.”
A trademark of this year’s Belding squad has been their ability to win close games. The Black Knights have won five games by six points or less.
“Our kids understand that a football game is a four-quarter game and you wouldn’t want to go into a game like this not understanding that,” Schwander said.
The Cougars are led by senior running back Nolan Fugate, who rushed for 277 yards and six touchdowns last week against the Rockets.
REGIONAL FINALS ACROSS WEST MICHIGAN
- Clarkston at West Ottawa
- Traverse City Central at Forest Hills Central
- DeWitt at Muskegon
- East Lansing at Battle Creek Harper Creek
- Belding at Grand Rapids Catholic Central
- Lansing Sexton at Edwardsburg
- Grand Rapids West Catholic at Portland
- Muskegon Oakridge at Saginaw Swan Valley
- Menominee at Reed City
- Ithaca at Montague
- Jackson Lumen Christi at Watervliet
- Saugatuck at Cassopolis
- Climax-Scotts at Mendon