The Buccaneers were hosting their annual Bucs Pride Night at the high school; with the squad donning their purple jerseys with the names of loved ones printed on the back to show support for those affected by cancer.
The Buccaneers used their home crowd to ignite a spark in the first quarter, as they drove down the field to take an early 6-0 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Charlie Young.
Unfortunately for the Bucs and their home crowd, that would be the lone highlight during the game. West Ottawa’s aerial attack on offense and defensive dominance on the ground helped the Panthers leave Grand Haven High School with a 41-6 rout of the Buccaneers.
“We just have to make plays. We try and put people in the right position to succeed, but we aren’t executing consistently enough,” said Grand Haven head coach Joe Nelson. “We have sparks where we hit big plays, but we can’t ever keep it going long enough to ignite something. We felt like we had a good gameplan set up, but they have really good athletes over there and they did a nice job of putting their athletes in space. We just didn’t make the plays to slow them down.
“We wanted a better pass rush, and we got that at times, but their quick passes kind of negated that. We weren’t able to get enough pressure on their quarterback to make him uncomfortable. We knew they were going to be good there, but we didn’t challenge them enough.”
After Grand Haven’s initial touchdown drive, West Ottawa quarterback Isaac Van Dyke took over. He drove the Panther offense down the field and answered Grand Haven’s early score with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Liam Cavanaugh to take a 7-6 lead into the second quarter of play.
After that, the Panther defense sunk its collective teeth into the Grand Haven offense, shut out the upset-minded home team for the rest of the contest.
In the second quarter, Van Dyke would add a 14-yard touchdown pass to wideout Xavier Wade, and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Cavanaugh to build a 20-6 halftime lead.
“We kept getting ourselves in bad spots,” added Nelson. “We are improving, but we just have to continue working. Our kids are still trying hard and going after it the whole way. I’ve seen plenty of Grand Haven football teams not do that the last few years, so that was a bright spot for us tonight.”
Last season, Grand Haven overcame an early first half deficit to stun the Panthers, 42-23 at West Ottawa High School. This year, West Ottawa showed the poise and composure of a playoff contender and made sure there would be no comeback heroics by the Buccaneers.
The Panthers broke away in the third quarter, with Van Dyke finding Cavanaugh for a 35-yard touchdown pass, followed by a 2-yard touchdown run by tailback SeanKesse Townsend, and a 28-yard touchdown pass from Van Dyke to Wade to open up a 41-6 lead at the end of the quarter.
The final stanza featured a running clock, the Panthers second-string offense and a lot of smiling faces on the West Ottawa sidelines.
“I really liked our effort, both offensively and defensively. I think what played to our advantage tonight was that we only have one 2-way starter on the entire team,” said second-year West Ottawa head coach Ryan Oshnock. “I think that just keeps us fresh and allows us to finish games strong.
“I was a little disappointed with how we started the game, but I thought, as the game went on, we started to get into a little bit of groove.”
Van Dyke finished 19-of-25 passing for 323 yards with five touchdowns and one interception to engineer the Panthers (3-1, 2-0 O-K Red) offensive attack.
Cavanaugh hauled in five receptions for 103 yards and three scores to lead the receiving corps, while Wade added four receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Townsend led the Panther rushing attack with 78 yards and one touchdown on only nine carries, while Qwaymont Burton added 47 yards on five carries.
“Isaac has been big for us all season. He’s been a silent leader for us out there,” Oshnock added. “He’s not a real vocal guy, but he just makes throw after throw and play after play for us. Our system is really designed for a running quarterback, and we are blessed to have him running it this year, because he can run the ball and he can throw it, too.”
While the Panther offense might get all the glory, the West Ottawa defense might have been the biggest reason the team was able to turn the tide on the Buccaneers.
West Ottawa held Grand Haven to just 84 yards of total offense and six first downs on 44 plays from scrimmage.
“Defensively, Logan DeRidder, who’s our middle linebacker, did a great job,” Oshnock said. “Grand Haven is big upfront and they are really well coached on the offensive line. He’s only about 6-foot, 190 pounds, but he did a great job getting off blocks, reading his blocks and flowing to the football well. He was a leader for us on that side of the ball and he really helped us slow down their rushing attack.”
Senior tailback Charlie Young led the Buccaneers offense with 39 yards rushing, while wideout Kellum Bridgeforth hauled in a 33-yard bomb from quarterback Adam Nelson to record the team’s only passing yards in the contest.
Bridgeforth also led the Grand Haven defense with seven tackles (five solo) and an interception that denied a West Ottawa scoring opportunity inside the 10-yard line of the Buccaneers. Collin Takas added four solo tackles, while Ryan Mattson and Young each added two.
Grand Haven (0-4, 0-2 O-K Red) travels to Rockford (2-2, 1-0 O-K Red) next Friday, while West Ottawa goes to Hudsonville (1-3, 0-2 O-K Red).