The Bucs and Huskies played two 20-minute quarters to get some game-situation experience in, and then broke down into practice modes, taking turns in half-field sets on offense and defense.
A surge of energy followed Grand Haven onto the field, as they opened play with a perfectly placed kickoff inside the 10-yard line.
The Grand Haven defense took the field first, shutting down three straight running plays for their first three-and-out stop of the season. The Bucs returned the favor by pounding home a hard-fought touchdown drive.
A majority of Grand Haven’s running sets were up the gut, saving the edges for rollout passing plays to varying degrees of success. The ground attack featured a wide cast of carriers, something coach Nelson expects to continue.
“Charlie Young ran really hard, Malic (Love) ran hard, and Brandon Diaz, we were hoping he could show up and do a great job, and he did,” Nelson said. “That helps us with depth in the backfield.
“We have a lot of guys who have to play a lot of football on both sides of the ball, so to have flexibility to manage their rest is good, that gives us more depth.”
Fumbles and a couple of dropped passes and snaps were easily blamed on inclement weather, but not excused by Nelson.
“It’s going to rain on a Friday,” he said. “So we have to take care of the ball. It was a challenging environment today, but we have to take care of that. That is one area we need to work on.”
Adam Nelson led the passing game with option rollouts prevailing. One attempt resulted in a touchdown from midfield; the rest fell to damp turf.
“I think we did a pretty good job in the passing game,” Nelson said. “We have to tighten up our routes a bit and fix some things up from today, but I believe we can throw the ball.”
On defense, Grand Haven was able to hold strong between the tackles, but struggled when Portage’s speed reached the edge, and while pressure was heavy up front on passing plays, the Huskies had an easy time getting over the top for multiple highlight-reel passing touchdowns.
“I’m not concerned,” Nelson said of the successful Portage looks. “No one was keeping score today. We were playing kids in different positions, and they were playing an offense we didn’t prepare for, so if they got something on us, we hadn’t seen it.
“If we were out to win the scrimmage, we would have structured our practices differently.”
What impressed Nelson most was the Grand Haven energy. After a failed reboot last season, the varsity team seems as excited as ever to give it another go under a new coach. Energy is paramount for the style of offense Nelson plans to run.
“I love how we came out here, and we were focused and ready and eager,” he said. “We have to be able to sustain that focus and stay with each other.
“I think we will be a high play-per-drive kind of team. We have got to be able to sustain a drive and not do the little things like putting the ball on the ground or taking penalties.”
Now, preparation turns to Grand Haven’s week one matchup with Reeths-Puffer at home, taking the struggles and bright spots from the scrimmage back to practice.
“We had a lot of guys rotating in and out for us in different situations,” Nelson added. “Parker Kingma is doing great right now as one of our team leaders and is showing on the field he can do some really great things. Carter Williams on both sides of the ball was outstanding, as well.”
“We are still working on some things, and have a ways to go, but we are really anxious to get prepared for Reeths-Puffer.”
Defense shines for Muskegon Catholic
The Muskegon Catholic Central football squad also hosted a scrimmage Thursday. The Crusaders primarily sparred with Reed City and Cadillac, while Ludington, Montague and Shelby were also attending the six-team event.
“The defense played really well,” said fifth-year head coach Steve Czerwon. “We are playing a number of new players on that unit, and I thought a lot of guys were flying around and making plays out there.
“Our linebacking unit will be completely new this year and Nolan Convertini, Avery Davis and Riley St. Amour all played well today. I think that was a big step for those three, and they really held their own.
“As a starting unit, we only gave up two touchdowns the entire scrimmage.”
The Crusaders’ offense was equally impressive at the scrimmage, with speed being the name of the game for new-look backfield.
“Our speed on offense really worked well,” Czerwon added. “Our offensive line played strong and really opened up some holes for us. Tommy Watts and Riley St. Amour both ran really hard, which was exciting to see.
“We tried to limit how much we ran Cam (Martinez), but he threw the ball well, and ran for three touchdowns on four carries.”
Laker offense finding its stride
Spring Lake traveled to Chippewa Hills for its scrimmage, going up against the host Chippewas and Hudsonville Unity Christian, both of which were playoff qualifiers last season.
“The scrimmage went well, and I think we figured out our identity as a team,” said second-year head coach Dan Start. “Our offensive line, collectively, performed really well, our quarterbacks made good decisions, and I think our offense as a whole executed well.”
Start was also happy with how the defense held up against two powerful offensive squads.
“Our defense did well, too. Unity Christian and Chippewa Hills both use a lot of power running plays to get their offenses going, and we really answered the call for the most part. We knew there would be some mistakes here and there since we are installing a new defense. We’re moving from a 3-4 front to a 3-5 look in order to get some more blitzing involved.
“We have the athletes at linebacker to do that, but that also puts some of them in some tight spots in pass coverage, too.”
Despite some inexperience at key positions, Start saw some positive things from both younger players and players returning from injuries.
“I thought Wyatt Lisman, Joe Chittenden and Gavin Paul all ran hard today. I also thought Griffin (Lorimer) looked pretty confident at the quarterback position, too. You can tell he’s completely recovered from that ACL injury at this point.
“Zach Keyser scrimmaged with the junior varsity team earlier in the day at quarterback and then came over to join the varsity squad and got some reps in, as well. I thought that was promising sign for the future of our program and our depth at quarterback.”
Fruitport finds its footing at Oakridge
The Fruitport football squad traveled to Oakridge to take on the host Eagles, Muskegon Heights, Allendale and Holland.
Sixth-year head coach Greg Vargas came away more confident in his squad than he was entering the event.
“I was pretty satisfied with the team’s performance,” he said. “We had a solid day. Jakob Carlisle looked strong at quarterback and Blade Williams and Dominic Colegrove knew what they were doing out there at the running back positions. Our offensive line got the job done, and really moved some people in the run game.”
Vargas was happy to see that particular unit gelling on the fly, as it appears to be the biggest question mark facing the team in 2017.
“That’s the biggest project for us,” he said of the position group. “We only return one player from last year in Dallas Rogers, and he’ll be part-time starter for us. We have a good mix of younger and experienced players that we are hoping will take that next step and be reliable varsity starters by the time we get going.”