In 2003, Unity Christian debuted as a varsity program. The ‘Saders lost their first seventeen games, before finally beating Hastings in their 2004 finale. Flash forward seventeen seasons, and this Unity Christian team has a chance to make history. Not only could the ‘Saders win the school’s second State Championship, they could be the first 14-0 team in program history. Oh, and they have a chance to become the state’s all-time single season scoring leader in the process.
The story of the 2021 Unity Christian football team begins a season ago. Last year, COVID was a factor throughout the entire MHSAA football landscape. Perhaps nobody felt it worse than the ‘Saders. After a perfect regular season in which Unity Christian dominated their competition, the ‘Saders took down Holland Christian in their playoff opener. It would end up being their last game of the season, as the team had COVID concerns. Just like that, it was over for the #2 ranked team in Division 4, a team that many (myself included) felt were the front-runners for the State Championship. They never lost a game on the field, but they were “upset” by the pandemic.
“The kids knew that we had a solid team last year, and we had an opportunity to make some noise, though there were good teams on the horizon,” Unity Christian Head Coach Craig Tibbe shared. “It’s served as a good reminder to be careful and smart, and to take care of ourselves. There has been a bit of motivation to be able to finish it out on the field, and we earned that opportunity this fall.”
As the 2021 season kicked off, this team was on a mission. They dominated in the non-conference, beating Hopkins and Grand Rapids Christian, a pair of playoff teams, by a combined 79 points. In OK Blue play, they won all seven games by at least 26 points. It was an impressive display of offense and defense, as they held three teams to just seven points.
The playoffs began, and the momentum never ceased for Unity Christian. Sixty-seven points seemed impressive enough against Forest Hills Eastern in the opening round, but the ‘Saders followed that up with 79 (!) points against Grand Rapids Christian. After dropping 53 on Cadillac, the dream semifinal was set. Unity Christian took on Edwardsburg last week in a game planned out in everyone’s brackets. Pitting the state’s highest scoring offense against an Eddies team that allowed about 5 points per game? That sounded like the perfect matchup. Turns out, it would be Edwardsburg’s biggest nightmare.
The 58-8 win over the Eddies, a team that allowed 56 points in their twelve prior games, punched Unity Christian’s ticket to Ford Field. It also propelled them up the State scoring leaderboard. Through 13 games, the ‘Saders have scored 751 points. Only one other team has tallied more points in a season, the 1999 Orchard View Cardinals, coached by John Shillito. That Orchard View team finished the year with 774 points, meaning that Unity Christian needs just 24 points to set a new record. The last time they failed to score 24 points in a game? Their 2019 semifinal loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central, a streak that spans 20 games.
“We have talked about the record with our kids, especially as it got more talked about in the media,” Tibbe revealed. “When we asked our kids, nobody knew what the record (number of points) was. Only a couple even knew the team that held it, and they probably wouldn’t have known before two weeks ago.”
Cam and Drew Chandler, twin seniors on this Unity Christian team, are the explosive part of this offensive firework show. They have been a phenomenal 1-2 punch throughout this season. Cam, the ‘Saders quarterback, has 38 total touchdowns on the season. Drew is second on the team with 28 trips to the end zone. Outside of those two, Unity Christian calls on a host of weapons. They have strong backs in Abe Rappuhn, Ethan Vanotterloo and Micah Bush, while Gabe Newhof serves as a reliable passing target. It’s nearly impossible to stop this offense, with so many scoring threats.
Their quest for a second State Championship will take place on Friday evening, when they face the Chelsea Bulldogs. Chelsea also maintains a 13-0 record, and the Bulldogs finished with the most Playoff Points in Division 4 (70.556). Unity Christian concluded the regular season with the second-most Playoff Points (67.444). During the regular season, five of Chelsea’s opponents made the playoffs, including Division 3 semifinalist St Joseph. The last two weeks of the postseason have been packed with late-game drama for these Bulldogs. In the Regional Finals against Detroit Country Day, they blocked a potential game-winning field goal, scooping the loose football and racing for a game-winning touchdown. Last Saturday, they held on for a 30-27 win over Freeland. The Falcons opted to go for the win inside the 5-yard line, and Chelsea built a wall in front of the goal line. These were the first two games decided by single digits for the Bulldogs this season.
Here is the blocked field goal and TD from Jason Skoczylas that won the game for the Bulldogs in dramatic fashion in the Division 4 regional final tonight. Bulldogs will take on Freeland next Saturday at 1:00 PM. Location TBD. Video courtesy of @cfitch1231. pic.twitter.com/vUrY4TrkQu
— Chelsea Athletics (@ChelseaBulldogs) November 13, 2021
Chelsea is led by Head Coach Josh Lucas, who is 45-6 in his four seasons at the helm. This is his second trip to Ford Field (2018), and the program’s third appearance (2015). The Bulldogs are still searching for that elusive first State Championship, suffering losses to Edwardsburg and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in their first two trips.
Lucas Dunn has been a strong quarterback for Chelsea this fall. Nick Fisk and Trent Hill have served as reliable weapons for this Bulldogs’ offensive attack that averages 40.8 points per game.
“Their skill guys are extremely talented”, Tibbe shared. “Their running backs and wide receivers are athletic, and their quarterback makes smart decisions with RPOs. They can make defenses pay with big plays, so we need to contain them and limit those big plays. On defense, they have active players with size. They are a solid bunch that will challenge our offense.”
Coach Tibbe’s bunch may break a scoring record that has stood for 22 years on Friday evening. They could even become the state’s first ever 800-point team. But their focus is set on securing the State Championship, something that the current record holder couldn’t do. “As one of our assistant coaches told our team this week, the record can be broken, but you can’t take away a State Championship.”