By Dave Tomczak
MONTAGUE – If there was any question that Ravenna belongs at the top of the West Michigan Conference, it was answered on Friday.
It was the first time Ravenna has beaten Montague, the defending conference champion and a state finalist last year, since 2014.
Ravenna improved to 5-0 in the conference and remained tied on top of the standings with Oakridge. The two teams will meet in two weeks, most likely with the WMC title on the line.
Montague, which lost to Oakridge last week, now falls to 4-2 and 3-2, and has dropped back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2014.
“We took a lot of disrespect from people coming into this game, saying it was a game for second place in the conference,” said Bulldogs coach Doug Samuels, whose team improved to 5-1 overall. “No, we’re in first place and don’t plan on giving it up.”
The Bulldogs’ chances of pulling off the upset did not look good early on when they lost the ball on fumbles on their first two possessions.
But the Wildcats returned the favor with a fumble on their opening possession, and went on to lose the ball on fumbles three times in the game, along with a blown punt attempt,’
The offensive struggles for both teams led to a 0-0 score after one quarter, but Ravenna finally broke through on the first play of the second quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-one at the Montague 20-yard line, the Bulldogs got the Wildcats’ defensive line to jump offside, resulting in a first down at the 15. Five plays later, Grant Parker rumbled in from three yards out for a touchdown. Parker also ran in the two-point conversion and Ravenna had an 8-0 lead with 9:31 left in the half.
“When you have the first two drives end in fumbles, and then the kids were still able to respond to that kind of adversity, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Samuels said.
Montague responded by driving to the Bulldogs 34, but quarterback Drew Collins lost the ball while scrambling and Kalob Denio recovered for Ravenna.
The Wildcat defense forced a punt, but Collins fumbled again two plays later, and Nick Ely returned it 12 yards to the Montague five-yard line.
The Bulldogs had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Lupe Barcenas with 2:25 remaining to take an 11-0 lead into halftime.
“We’ve been pretty bad with turnovers and penalties, and I’m not sure why,” Montague coach Pat Collins said. “The defense has been good, but the offense is really struggling. We have a lot of guys playing both ways, and maybe that’s part of the problem.”
Montague opened the second half with a three-and-out drive, setting up Ravenna’s best drive of the game.
The Bulldogs moved 82 yards on nine plays, taking 3:30 off the clock, and took a 17-0 lead with 7:10 left in the third quarter. Parker capped the drive with his second TD of the game, this time from four yards out.
Montague finished its next drive, and the third quarter, with its third fumble of the night.
The Wildcats finally scored with 3:40 left in the game when Collins hit Sammy Smith with a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Ravenna recovered the onside kick and finished off the night by taking a knee and celebrating.
“This was a huge win for us – every game on the road in this conference is big,” Samuels said. “To come in here on homecoming, with that crowd and that buzz, and to be able to handle it, it’s a testimony to our kids, and the reason we are where we are now, tied with Oakridge and in the driver’s seat for the WMC title.”
Ravenna finished with 324 total yards, including 160 on the ground and 164 through the air behind Kilbourne’s 16-for-25 passing.
Montague had 208 total yards, as Collins finished 12-for-25 for 138 yards.