PREVIEW: Watervliet Hosts Schoolcraft in Playoff Opener

10-13 football
Listen live online Friday night on the Slocum Sports Network as the Watervliet Panthers host the Schoolcraft Eagles in the first round of the MHSAA Division 6 high school football postseason.   These teams met two weeks ago in Southwestern Athletic Conference (SAC) Lakeshore division play with Watervliet getting a 36-14 road win.

At 9-0, Watervliet is one of six unbeaten teams in the 32-team Division 6 field and the only one within their region.  The Panthers are averaging 53.1 points per game, third-best in all of Michigan, while allowing 22.7 per game.  Their final two regular season games against Schoolcraft and Coloma, both 36-14 finals, were their lowest scoring games of the season while also their second-fewest points allowed.

Schoolcraft enters at 5-4, averaging 27.4 points per game and allowing 18.7 per game.  After a 5-1 start, injuries and a tough schedule put the Eagles on a three-game losing streak, falling to Watervliet, Coloma (32-7), and to Kalamazoo United (31-28) in last week’s regular season finale.

In the first meeting, Watervliet jumped out to an early 14-0 advantage.   Schoolcraft scored the next two touchdowns to tie the game, but a 62-yard touchdown pass from Zack Pickens to Trent Boone seconds before halftime put the Panthers ahead.  Watervliet clamped down defensively in the second half, holding Schoolcraft to a turnover on downs thrice and tallying one interception.

The Eagle defense did shut down Pickens on the ground, holding him to easily his worst rushing effort at 19 yards on 24 attempts.   However, Watervliet’s big-play pass attack was potent, scoring touchdowns of 72, 62, 41 and 19 yards and getting 349 pass yards in total.     The Panthers contained Schoolcraft to smaller gains, allowing only one gain of more than 20 yards.

Watervliet is in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year and for the second time in that stretch, enters unbeaten.  Coincidentally, the other time they did in 2013, Schoolcraft eliminated them in the District final.   Twice in that stretch, the Panthers made it as far the Regional final.   The only time they’ve gotten deeper was in their runner-up 1979 season.   Last season, they fell in the Pre-District game to eventual state champion Jackson Lumen Christi 55-28, who could be waiting in this year’s regional final.

Schoolcraft is in the postseason for the ninth consecutive season, although their 5-4 record is the weakest within that stretch.  Like Watervliet, the Eagles saw their season ended in 2016 by Lumen Christi, losing in the District final 37-34.   This is the fourth postseason meeting between Schoolcraft and Watervliet, with Eagle wins in 2013 and 1999 and a Panther win in 2014.    They’ve met six times total with four Schoolcraft wins and two Watervliet wins.

Listen live to Friday’s game online on the Slocum Sports Network with kickoff at 7 p.m. from Watervliet High School.   The winner moves to the District final against the winner of the Panther Bowl between Parchment and Delton Kellogg.

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