PORTAGE — Kevin Bartz called Hudsonville Unity Christian "the best team we've ever played."
And with good reason. The third-ranked Crusaders completely overwhelmed second-ranked Edwardsburg Saturday in the Division 4 state football semifinals before more than 4,000 fans at Portage Northern High School.
Bartz's team never had a answer for Unity Christian's speed. And when the Crusaders also matched the Eddies' physicality, the result was a lopsided 58-8 decision, the worst Edwardsburg loss since a 54-0 setback to Buchanan on September 30, 1988.
"We've played Muskegon, and Chelsea, and Zeeland West, and Lansing Sexton," Bartz said. "Just go down the list. And they're the best. Not only are they fast, but physically the way they bring their speed defensively is something. We haven't played anything like that ever. That's an impressive football team."
The Crusaders, now 13-0, scored eight touchdowns on eight possessions while advancing to next Friday's Division 4 state championship game against Chelsea. Unity Christian scored 58 points against a Eddie defense, which had allowed just 56 in 12 previous games. And they rolled up 521 total yards on a Edwardsburg "D" that was allowing only 130.9 yards per game.
"I knew that their backs were quick and that we'd have to contain them," Bartz said. "The thing that surprised me the most was the quickness and physicality of their linemen as well. They matched our physicalness."
The game turned on the game's first series. Edwardsburg faced a fourth down and 2 at their own 45 yard line. And Eddie quarterback Jacob Pegura tripped over a lineman and fell for a 1-yard loss, turning the ball over to Unity Christian. It was one of five times during the game that the Crusaders stopped the Eddies on fourth down.
"Obviously we came into the game knowing that any kind of turnover, whether it be a punt, or a possession, or a fumble, it was going to put us in trouble," Bartz said. "We knew we were going to have trouble stopping them. And when we got behind 14 points early, we knew it would be an uphill battle from that point on. Getting stopped five times on fourth down, that's more than we were stopped all season."
Unity Christian took over and marched 55 yards in nine play with quarterback Cameron Chandler going the final 5 yards. His two-point conversion run made it 8-0.
After forcing an Edwardsburg punt, Unity Christian marched 54 yards on just four plays with Chandler scoring on a 32-yard run to up the lead to 14-0.
Edwardsburg's lone score came on its next possession with Connor Ostrander capping an 80-yard drive with a 58-yard touchdown run, a play in which he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced down the left sideline.
"To be honest, on the touchdown, they plugged the thing up," Bartz said. "Connor bounced to the outside. It was a broken play that didn't go where we intended."
It was all Unity Christian from there. Abraham Rappuhn, who rushed for 200 yards on 12 carries, scored a trio of second-quarter TDs on runs of 4, 52 and 81 yards to make it 37-8 at halftime.
Cameron Chandler threw a 24-yard scoring pass to his twin brother Drew in the third period to make it 44-8 and start the running clock because of the 35-point mercy rule.
Drew Chandler finished with 71 yards on 14 carries and Cameron had 69 on nine attempts.
"The edges were where we felt we had to slow them down," Bartz said. "They were still able to kick our outside linebackers out. We didn't get enough fill from our safeties, mainly because they get so many bodies out there as quick as they do. We didn't really have an answer for anything they did. We tried to switch some things defensively, moving bodies. But they do a phenomenal job with blocking schemes and getting some good one-on-one angles. They're well-coached and when you have those kind of athletes, you can do a lot of things."
"I thought Abe (Rappuhn) had a really, really good day," Unity Christian coach Craig Tibbe said. "Cam did a great job and Drew ran hard. And our line up front blocked their heads off. But I'm going to tell you, the best thing was our defense today. They just shut down. Edwardsburg scores a ton of points (631 in 12 games). And our kids battled today. It was a really, really fun thing to see. The defense gave us chances and we made the most of it. The kids just stick to our rules. They played hard and they hit. And I think we were very close to being as physical as they were. Edwardsburg doesn't ever quit. If you let up against that team, you're in trouble. We had to show up to hit on every play. And our kids did."
Edwardsburg was averaging 409.3 yards of offense per game, including 369.3 yards on the ground. But the Eddies never consistently got anything going Saturday, finishing with 310 yards.
"Unity was always at the point of the attack," Bartz said. You could see some seams. But they close them so quickly. The best we could do is some little flat passes. We never really got the running game. And I don't think I could ever say that before. I thought we'd be able to chunk away. I didn't think we'd get big plays, but I thought we could 3 and 4 yard them. But they're very, very quick to the point of attack and we never got the ball moving on them. They're at a different level."
Unity Christian's Noland Schuitema scored on a 4-yard run with 11:05 left in the game. And then the Crusaders tacked another TD on in the game's closing minutes on a 60-yard pass from backup quarterback Mitch Tibbe to Carter Bylsma.
"They'd already convinced me well before the pass that they were the best football team that we've ever faced," Bartz said. "They didn't need to put that last one in the air. That didn't prove much to me. They'd already shown me enough. I didn't need to know if they could pass the ball or not."
Ostrander had 79 yards on 10 carries and Logan McColley added 45 on 13 tries. Pegura completed eight of 10 passes for 110 yards.
Defensively, Isaiyah Swartz was in on 11 tackles, McColley and A.J. Obren nine each, Andrew Colvin and Oscar Morris seven apiece and Jacob Edwards six.
"I told the kids that we're not going to judge ourselves on this one game," said Bartz after his team finished 12-1. "We had a great season all along. If we'd have played someone other than Unity, I think we'd be seeing them in the state championship game. I think we're still the second best team in the state. They're just by far the best. We're not judging ourselves on one game. We had a phenomenal season. We just got beat by someone a lot better than us."
Edwardsburg has finished 91-9 over the past eight seasons with one state championship, a runner-up finish and a total of six trips to the state semfinals.
UNITY CHRISTIAN 58, EDWARDSBURG 8
Unity Christian | 14 | 23 | 7 | 14 — 58
Edwardsburg | 8 | 0 | 0 | 0 — 8
H — Cameron Chandler 5 run (C. Chandler run).
H — C. Chandler 32 run (pass failed).
E — Connor Otrander 58 run (Logan McColley run).
H — Abraham Rappuhn 4 run (Rappuhn run).
H — Rappuhn 52 run (Rappuhn run).
H — Rappuhn 81 run (Levi Tuinstra kick).
H — Drew Chandler 24 pass from C. Chandler (Tuinstra kick).
H — Noland Schuitema 4 run (Tuinstra kick).
H — Carter Bylsma 60 pass from Mitch Tibbe (Tuinstra kick).
Unity Christian | Edwardsburg
First Downs 23 | 12
Rushing Yardage 55-437 | 42-200
Passing Yardage 84 | 110
Passes-att-com-int 3-2-0 | 10-8-1
Punts-Yardage 0 2-| 56.5
Fumbles Lost 0 | 0
Penalty Yardage 7 | 20
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Edwardsburg bows out in MHSAA Division 4 football state semifinals