MONTAGUE — For the third straight season, Montague is the regional champion, and for the third straight season, it wasn’t ever in doubt.
The Wildcats were near-perfect on both sides of the ball in the first half and cruised in the second half Saturday afternoon, defeating Montrose 41-16 and advancing to Saturday’s semifinal game. Montague was set to host Grayling, 56-26 winners over Negaunee, in that contest.
Montague scored touchdowns on six of its seven first-half possessions (only a punt broke up that run) and blanked the high-powered Rams in that span. Montrose managed two touchdowns in the second half after the Wildcats began liberally playing their reserves.
Montrose all-state quarterback Bobby Skinner was under duress throughout the first 24 minutes, and sophomore Izac Jarka reaped the benefits, picking off Skinner three different times.
“I thought the defense did an incredible job of creating turnovers,” Montague coach Pat Collins said. “With pressure on the (quarterback), we had an opportunity on some balls, and we made the play when we needed to. I thought the turnovers were huge...It gave our offense a chance against a short field, and our offense capitalized.”
The first of Jarka’s picks snuffed out Montrose’s best scoring chance, which came after Montague took an 8-0 lead with an early touchdown and two-point conversion (kicker Andrew Kooi did not play). Skinner lofted the ball into double coverage inside the Montague 10, but his intended receiver, Monte Missentzis, nearly came down with the ball before Jarka came away with the pick. The Rams’ coaches vehemently argued that both players had had possession and the play should’ve been a completion, but Jarka got the call.
Montague punted on the ensuing possession, but a fourth-down stop by the Wildcat defense gave the hosts the ball back, and a barrage of touchdowns followed.
Quarterback Drew Collins was spectacular, completing all 12 of his passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns and running for 25 yards and a score. Dylan Everett added 51 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Tugg Nichols caught two of Collins’ scoring tosses and Sam Smith got another; Nichols’ first score came on an impressive 29-yard catch that saw him get the ball at the line of scrimmage, break a tackle, and then reverse his field and wind his way to the end zone. He later hauled in a 39-yard touchdown bomb from Collins, beating his man one-on-one, to close the Wildcats’ scoring late in the first half.
Coach Pat Collins said the Rams sold out to defend Montague’s running game, which left the Wildcats with advantageous matchups downfield that his son exploited.
“They knew we had a big line and could run the ball pretty well,” Collins said. “They decided, and I give them credit, they came in and decided, it’s all or nothing. They did do that, and our offense did a good job beating them over the top.
“We can stretch the field horizontally, stretch the field vertically, run in the middle, and our guys did a great job going to something we haven’t done a lot of this year, and that is (going) over the top.”
The Montague defense, meanwhile, focused on Skinner. Collins said his defense knew the shifty quarterback would be hard to sack, so the focus was on keeping him on the move and uncomfortable. It worked to perfection.
“We knew coming in that (Skinner) liked to throw deep and scramble a lot, so we worked on coverage and everything and tried to play the best we can, and we knew we’d win if we did that,” Jarka said.
Coach Collins credited his senior class for keeping the team on course throughout the season, and certainly through the nearly two-month pause that ended with Saturday’s victory.
“This is their team,” Collins said. “I’m very proud of the leadership and the captains and the seniors on down. They just take over. They have a mission. The coaches are here to provide the coaching, to fine-tune what they can’t see.
“As far as motivation, they take care of it themselves. We don’t have to say much to them. They’re running all those huddles, and all those meetings. They’re the ones talking to each other about what they expect from every person on the team. Those seniors are awesome. They’re second to none. They’re amazing.”