By Bobby Lee Photo: Ryan Kerwin, JTV Sports
The Western High School football team is embracing its Friday night date with Battle Creek Central as an opportunity.
Now that the Panthers have matched the school record for victories in a season and won a playoff game for the first time, they have the opportunity to earn a district championship.
“We have an opportunity to build our resume,” Coach Dave Mifsud said of his team that improved to 9-1 on the year after surviving a 21-14 overtime game with Mattawan last Friday. “We have put ourselves in position to be district champions.”
Mifsud added the district championship “will not make or break the season”, however, it’s a tempting prize considering the Panthers finished as the runner up to Lumen Christi in the Interstate 8 Conference.
Battle Creek Central will feature an aspect to the game – speed – that Western may not be able to replicate in practice leading up to the game. Ke’Ondre Glass, a senior receiver and safety for the Bearcats, is reported to cover 40 yards in 4.45 seconds, while Tyshaan Williams, a sophomore running back and defensive end, is clocked at 4.57.
“They look fast and athletic and have good skill kids,” Mifsud admitted. “Glass is a special talent and the shifty running back is fast. It will be a big challenge to try to contain (the Bearcats). We bend, but hopefully don’t break.
“It is hard to simulate speed (in practice) and we won’t find out until Friday (how it turns out),” he added. “Marshall had a couple of kids who were fast and special. You hope those opponents prepare you throughout the season.”
Western may not match the Bearcats’ speed, but running back and linebacker Landon Raczkowski is fast in his own right. He won a foot race against Max Huntley, Mattawan’s star running back, on his way to an 88-yard interception return for touchdown on the final play of the first half last Friday. That play boosted the Panthers to a 14-6 halftime lead, and they held on despite running few offensive plays in the second half.
For the season, Raczkowski has rushed for 885 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages more than nine yards per carry.
Tyler Pape, the Panther quarterback, has rolled up nearly 2,000 yards of total offense. Completing nearly 58 percent of his passes, he has thrown for 1,313 yards with 14 touchdowns.
Western has outscored its opponents, 312-118, this season, amplifying the competitiveness of its contest against Mattawan. The Panthers now have the confidence of surviving a game decided by a touchdown or less. Mifsud believes his team handled the pressure of a close game because it has been consistent all season.
“The Interstate 8 Conference has good teams,” Mifsud said. “Harper Creek was 12-0 last season before losing to Muskegon in the semifinals and Coldwater was 12-0 before it lost in the semifinals in 2015. These are legitimate programs. (This season) they were beating each other up. We played consistent every week and we were the only team besides Lumen Christi that did not get upset.”
Battle Creek Central, 7-3 this season, comes in battle tested. Before going on the road to upset Thornapple Kellogg, 25-24 last Friday, the Bearcats scored two regular season victories by a point (34-33 over Gull Lake and 27-26 over Benton Harbor), another by three points (24-21 over Niles) and one by a touchdown (34-27 over Saint Joseph).