East Grand Rapids used team defense to stop the Bulldogs QB VanderMarkt. Photo courtesy of Murray Sports Photography
To see the game in pictures click here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/45681226@N02/albums/72157711711641772
Courtesy of Lou Murray
East Grand Rapids and Byron Center have only played each other twice before Friday night. The most recent was the 2010 Pre-District that saw East win 45-29. The other was the prior year when East won the D-3 District championship by a margin of 37-14. The common denominator is the Pioneers went on to win their 2 most recent State Titles after beating the Bulldogs. This year would be different, or so it would seem.
The Bulldogs had posted their first undefeated regular season since 1952 (8-0) when they were part of the Barry-Kent-Allegan Conference. The 2019 Bulldogs had run the table in the difficult OK-Green. A conference that sent over half of its teams into the Playoffs(Unity Christian and both Zeeland teams). If that was not enough, Byron Center would handle Spring Lake in the Pre-District game a week ago. That win improved Byron Center to 10-0, and an opportunity to set a school record with an 11th win.
Coach Casey Longo and his Pioneers would need to win in week 9 to attain their 6th win of the season. That win guaranteed a post season appearance. Little did they know that a home game against rival Lowell would be the reward. East handled Lowell a week ago, and in turn was granted an opportunity to play for the D-3 District Title. The team loaded with seniors, who were in middle school when East played in their last District title game(2016), knew about history, but were eager for a chance to write it.
The game was played in Byron Center. The weather was nearly perfect, cold but little wind and no rain or snow. The first half was nearly as perfect. Both teams defensive power was on display forcing short drives and a battle for field position. Byron Center would strike first. Sr QB Austin VanderMarkt would use his legs to move the Bulldogs down the field. The score would come from Jr RB Mason Breit from 8 yards away. East would answer with a drive of their own, capped off by a 1 yard QB sneak by Sr Robbie Stuursma. The PAT would be blocked by Jr Austin Roon and the pioneers would trail by 1.
The second quarter saw only one score. Sr RB John Shelton IV would dive across the goal line from a yard away. The Sr K Henry Wassinks’ PAT would sail through the uprights and East would have the lead. That lead would not be relinquished, but rather expanded.
East would use Shelton to score two more times after the halftime break. Sr WR Jack Mundell would also punch it in as a runner which would seal the win for the Pioneers. Byron Center would have a bright spot in an otherwise dingy second half. Jr RB Austin Ottow would return a kick off 81 yards for a Bulldog score. Although this touchdown would spark energy in the crowd, the East defense would continue to dominate the half.
With the loss the Bulldogs season has come to an end. OK Green champions and a 10-1 overall record is nothing to be upset about, but the feeling of disappointment was prevalent in Byron Center. For the Pioneers, the victory improves their record to 8-3. The next opponent will be decided on Saturday Nov. 9th. The Big Reds of Muskegon host the Red Hawks of Cedar Springs in Grand Haven. The winner of that game will host the Pioneers in week 12 for the Regional Championship. Next week’s winner will be just one win away from making Thanksgiving day plans in or around Ford Field.