GRAND HAVEN – For a large Grand Haven senior class, there was only one way to go out on Friday night. With Holland West Ottawa in town, the Bucs used an effective ground game to blow by the Panthers, winning 49-14.
“We played hard,” Grand Haven head coach Joe Nelson said. “We’re really excited for them and proud of them. The coaching staff worked their tails off, we have to control one week at a time, so now we can get ready for Union. Hopefully we can find that 5-4 bid.”
The Bucs moved to .500 with Friday’s win, and now face a winless Grand Rapids Union team for a chance at playoff qualification. It’ll depend on results elsewhere, but turning around from a 2-4 record earlier in the year wasn’t lost on the Grand Haven seniors.
“I guess we all just did our jobs,” Grand Haven’s Austin Broemer said. “It was effective, we just moved the ball methodically and kept things moving. We know we can do a lot more than we showed tonight.”
Broemer had a pair of touchdowns from close range, but there were three Bucs rushers over 100 yards on the night. Owen Krizan took 10 carries for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Grant Ellis and Connor Worthington ended at 109 and 101 yards respectively, both scoring once.
Krizan opened the scoring with a 61-yard rushing score 4 minutes into the game. After a long drive spilled into the start of the second quarter, Broemer carried in from 2 yards out to extend the Bucs’ lead to 13-0.
A fake punt on West Ottawa’s next drive was intercepted and returned to the Panther 12 by Will McWatters, and Worthington ran in a toss on the next play.
“We came out a little slow up front,” the senior fullback said. “Once we got a few plays in, things started to turn up a little bit, some of those bigger plays started to happen.”
One of the lone bright spots on the night for West Ottawa came early in the second quarter, as sophomore George Dalman broke a pair of tackles on his way to a 57-yard rushing touchdown. That cut the Grand Haven lead to 21-7.
However, Ellis responded with a long-range touchdown of his own, scoring from 34 yards out midway through the quarter to restore the 3-score lead.
After West Ottawa missed a field goal before halftime, Worthington made another big impact on the game, recovering a Panther fumble on their first play of the second half and taking it in from 29 yards out.
Worthington recovered another fumble on a third-down in Grand Haven territory, and Krizan found space to score from 40 yards out, effectively sealing the game for the Bucs.
“That was huge,” Krizan said of the defense’s number of big plays. “Right from the start, our defense was focused. We could have played a little better at times, but that’s a good scoring team over there. They’re good at throwing the ball, so we focused on shutting that down.”
To that end, Panther quarterback Jacob Zimmer finished the night 17-of-34 passing for 200 yards, throwing a late touchdown with two interceptions.
After Ellis nearly scored on a 48-yard run, Broemer was efficient from close range, scoring from 3 yards out to make it 49-7 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Senior Adam Strom gave himself a Senior Night memory with an interception to close the third quarter, and the final 12 minutes of play were a chance for both teams to play most of their rosters.
Zimmer found Blake Bosma for a 12-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left, and that ended the night.
“We still have a long ways where we can go,” Nelson said. “I see a great top end, I’d love to get into the playoffs and get an opportunity to play some of these teams again.”
It was also a time for the seniors to reflect on playing one final game at Gene Rothi Field. The Bucs will be on the road next week, and will not host a playoff game.
“It’s just weird thinking back, we won’t have this again,” Worthington said. Had it sunk in that it was his last game at home? “Not yet. It’ll hit eventually.”
Quarterback Alex Kapala was hopeful for at least a couple weeks spent practicing, hopefully with a playoff game in mind.
“Everyone trusts each other on this field,” Kapala said. “If we stick to that it’s going to keep us playing.”
For Krizan, it was difficult to process.
“I’m going to miss it,” the senior said. “I’ll just say that this is going to last a long time. This isn’t going to leave my head for a long time.”
Contact Kyle Turk at email@example.com or on Twitter @KyleTurkGHT.