After a hot start to 2018, the Grand Haven football team was in high spirits and feeling confident they could continue to shock the world, as they opened O-K Red Conference play against Hudsonville on Friday night.
With a packed house at Gene Rothi Field, the Buccaneers were poised to make a statement, but it was the visiting Eagles who would serve Grand Haven a reality check in a 41-0 road shutout win.
"I think we got a little bit shocked," said Grand Haven head coach Joe Nelson. "Their level of play was obviously a lot faster, and they played a lot harder and tougher than we were expecting. We tried to simulate that in practice and give them a good look heading into tonight's game, but this was a reality check for us.
"We didn't respond the way we were hoping to, obviously. We tried to get things rolling, but Hudsonville did an excellent job on both sides of the ball. They played a flawless game, especially compared to what we saw on film from their first two games."
The Grand Haven offense only mustered three first downs the entire game with 124 total yards.
Hudsonville controlled the ball for the majority of the game, racking up 353 total yards of offense, including 257 yards on the ground. The Eagles also mixed in some passing plays that kept drives alive, as the team finished 8-of-12 on third-down conversions.
"I knew they were going to try and throw the ball around a little bit, but we weren't anticipating them being quite that efficient at it," admitted Nelson. "We knew they had some talented wide receivers, but it seemed like every time they threw the ball up, they were coming down with it."
The Eagles jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and added two scores in the second quarter to take a commanding 20-0 lead into the half. Despite the lopsided scoreboard, the Buccaneers felt confident, as they managed to move the ball inside the Eagles' 20-yard line twice in the second quarter, before ultimately coming away empty-handed.
"I think we still had a shot when they went up 20-0, because we were making a few plays here and there," Nelson added. "We just weren't able to sustain drives. I think after that, we really had to force the issue and go away from what we are successful at. From there, we made some mistakes and they capitalized on them."
The Eagles pulled away in the third quarter thanks to a 20-yard touchdown run by speedy tailback Mason Piper, and a 30-yard interception return by Lucas Forgette on the ensuing Buccaneer possession to put Hudsonville ahead 34-0 in the blink of an eye.
"Their defense is fast and strong, and they flow pretty well to the ball," added Nelson. "Owen (Krizan) and Connor (Worthington) were obviously their biggest reads on defense, and they did a nice job of getting guys on them immediately before they got going. We tried to do some things to slow them down, but we just didn't give ourselves time to throw the ball well."
For Hudsonville, Piper rushed for 172 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries, while Davyon Lesure added 51 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
Sophomore quarterback Brennan Hayes finished 7-of-9 passing for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Brayden Vredeveld caught three passes for 27 yards and a score, while Payton Carney added a 30-yard reception and Josh Mesa caught a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Josh Hoekstra led the Eagle defense with six tackles, while Vredeveld and Jordan Wenzel each added five and Forgette also added a 30-yard interception return for a score.
For Grand Haven, Owen Krizan led a limited Buccaneer rushing attack with 70 yards on 10 carries, including a 58-yard burst in the second quarter.
Connor Worthington was bottled up for most of the contest, as he was held to just 22 yards on seven carries.
Austin Broemer led the Buccaneer defense with nine tackles, while Krizan also added nine stops. Alex Kapala, Will McWatters and Bronsen Jewell each recorded seven total tackles.
Grand Haven travels to Grandville (1-2) next Friday, while Hudsonville (3-0) hosts Caledonia (1-2).
"These are a resilient group of gritty guys, and I think they are going to rally," Nelson said after talking with his team. "They know we didn't play our best tonight, and we still have six more weeks to go, so we can't sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.
"It's humbling, and they have to realize that everything we do matters. That means finishing the game strong even when the scoreboard isn't in your favor. It affects the entire operation, and now, we have to get back to working hard at practice to get ready for next week and make sure this doesn't happen again."