The Division 4 Playoffs continue on Friday night with a thrilling District Final matchup in Hastings. The host Saxons will welcome South Christian to town in an old-school OK Gold showdown.

Though these schools have not played since Hastings departed the OK Gold after the 2015 campaign, there is a familiarity within the programs. “I played at Hastings, and I’ve been coaching here since 1999,” Hastings Head Coach Jamie Murphy shared. “As part of the (OK) Gold together, I have tremendous respect for their program and what they do. There are a few coaches on staff here who have been around for a long time, and they remember those games against South Christian, so we know what we are jumping into”. On the South Christian side of things, Head Coach Danny Brown echoes that sentiment. “It is a cool trip down to Hastings. I remember driving down there, and you drive through the town before arriving at the stadium. We played some great games there in my day, and it is a really unique venue. It’s a community that loves their football and supports their team.”

Hastings is searching for their first-ever District Championship on Friday evening. This is the ninth playoff appearance for the Saxons since the playoffs expanded to 32 teams in 1999, but only their second District Finals game. In 2007, they suffered a 26-14 loss to Lansing Sexton. “As a coaching staff, we have talked about this opportunity,” Murphy shared. “We haven’t tried to bring extra hoopla into the game week with the kids, but that doesn’t mean they don’t already know what this game means.”

Running their trademark “T” offense, Hastings relies on a multitude of offensive weapons. The Saxons have only attempted 20 passes on the year, so they look to a 1-2 bunch at tailback to shoulder the load. TJ Russell leads the way with 1,632 yards and 18 touchdowns on 155 carries. Robby Slaughter also has 18 rushing touchdowns, and on 107 carries, he has logged 1,146 yards. Lanny Teunessen has been a good third back (9 touchdowns), and Mason Denton has been a reliable quarterback when called upon.

TJ Russell was named Interstate 8 Player of the Year by the media on Tuesday, and Coach Murphy shared high praises on his ability. “Every time there has been a big opportunity, whether its Lumen or Coldwater, TJ always stepped up. He can make the big play. If they give him an inch, he will take it a long way.”

South Christian faced the “T” two weeks ago against Cedar Springs, and Head Coach Danny Brown believes that it can play to their advantage. “There are absolutely some advantages to seeing the T two weeks ago,” Brown stated. “You can’t simulate the speed and efficiency to which teams run the T in practice, no matter how hard you try. Getting those live reps is extremely important.”

Jamie Murphy believes it can also be to the Saxons advantage that South Christian played against the T earlier this year. “Just as they watch film on us, we get to see how they scheme for the T. We can become familiar with what they tried against Cedar Springs and adjust our game plan. They are extremely athletic up front and did some things against their T that could give us fits. Their front eight handled Cedar Springs’ line well, so we may need to try some new things. It really becomes a chess match between the two coaching staffs.”

When South Christian has the football, there is a well-rounded attack. “They are a balanced team, nearly 50/50 in terms of pass and run”, Murphy explained. “Their quarterback is a running threat, and he can throw too. Their halfback is a tough kid who runs downhill, and they have some receivers with size and great hands. They make it difficult to game plan defensively.”

Jake DeHaan, the Sailors’ quarterback, has passed for 1,627 yards and rushed for a team-high 872. DeHaan has 23 total touchdowns on the season. Chandler VanSolkema is a strong runner for South Christian, with 827 yards and 15 touchdowns on 7.5 yards per carry. When DeHaan airs it out, there are six receivers who have at least 15 catches. Colton and Jack Schruer each have over 300 yards receiving.

“Similar to what they do, we need to run,” Brown shared. “Deeper in the playoffs, the ability to run the football is vital to success. We feel great about the way that our line plays. On both sides of the ball, we need to be physical up front.”

South Christian holds a 12-3 series advantage in the fifteen meetings as OK Gold members, including a 50-28 victory in the final game in 2015. This is another motivation for the Saxons on Friday night. “We really hope to represent our conference on Friday night,” Murphy shared. “A lot of people look down on us for moving out of the OK Gold conference, saying that we went to an easier conference. The Interstate 8 is tough, and we hope to show that with a strong performance on Friday.”