By Jason Wesseldyk
The opening possession of the Division 8 football district final between host Saugatuck and White Pigeon on Friday, Nov. 3, started so well for the Trailblazers.
Saugatuck put together a sustained drive that took more than five minutes off the clock and got into the red zone.
But a fumble was recovered by White Pigeon, with the Chiefs scoring two plays later when Caleb Lane raced 75 yards for the touchdown.
The Trailblazers were unable to swing the momentum back in their favor the rest of the game, with White Pigeon earning the 30-0 win.
Saugatuck finished the season at 7-3, marking the team’s best finish in five years. And it was a marked improvement over last season, when the Trailblazers finished 2-7 and were forced to forfeit the final two games due to a lack of healthy players.
“This is definitely not the way we wanted to finish the season, but a credit to our kids on having a great season after not being able to finish the season last year,” longtime Saugatuck coach Bill Dunn said.
White Pigeon, which claimed its third straight district title, remained unbeaten at 11-0. The Chiefs will face Ottawa Lake Whiteford—also 11-0—in a regional final on Friday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.
“Saugatuck is a good football team and had a nice drive (to start the game) and was ready to go,” White Pigeon coach Shawn Strawser said. “But it’s why you rally to the ball. You make things happen and our defense made some big plays.”
The White Pigeon offense didn’t exactly overwhelm the Saugatuck defense. Rather, the Chiefs were consistent throughout the game, scoring one touchdown in each quarter to slowly pull away.
Saugatuck tried to rebound in the second half, as Cass Stanberry recovered a White Pigeon fumble on the third play of the third quarter.
But the Trailblazers were unable to garner a first down. And on the ensuing punt attempt, the snap sailed over the punter’s head and the Chiefs regained possession inside the 20-yard line.
A few plays later, White Pigeon upped its lead to 22-0 when Taylor Stewart scored on a 2-yard run.
“Mistakes hurt us early, and we never quite got back into the flow of the game,” Dunn said. “In a playoff game, mistakes, turnovers and a short field cost you opportunities for success. White Pigeon took advantage of those opportunities, as a good football program will do.
“But our kids continued to play hard and gave their best effort for four quarters of football.”
Senior Will Doucette led the Saugatuck offense with 63 yards on 12 carries. Classmate Matt Hartgerink went 4-of-10 passing 63 yards.
Senior Landon Miller and junior Carter Miller each had two receptions for 47 and 16 yards, respectively.
Stanberry was the Trailblazers’ leading tackler with nine, followed by Hartgerink with seven. Juniors Norm Bos and Noah Morgan added six stops each.
“As always, where there is failure is an opportunity for growth,” Dunn said. “We will evaluate the season, look at the positives and negatives, and move forward in a positive direction in the off-season.
“The seniors provided great leadership in the offseason and during the season, and should be proud of the team’s response and what was accomplished this season, based on hard work and determination.”
By Jason Wesseldyk