West Ottawa Stadium opened in style with win 'like heaven' (VIDEO)
PARK TWP. - As the Panthers thundered out of the tunnel of the brand new West Ottawa Stadium, a new era began.
This is an era of new beginnings, new energy and new excitiment.
It started last week when West Ottawa snapped its three-year skid and earned a win, bringing that momentum to a season opener full of anticipation, energy and excitement.
The players hung on to that energy and excitement, marching down the field on the Panthers' first drive. West Ottawa scored on a fourth down pass from Cole Tulgestke to Allen Payne Jr. from 8-yards out and the Panthers went on to a 21-10 win, opening the new venue in style.
"It means everything. (Winning) is a tradition now. That energy we are going to tranfer (moving forward)," Payne Jr. said. "It means a lot. With the history we have, coming back to make a big play on fourth meant a lot."
The Panthers improved to 2-0 and leaped into the completely full student section to celebrate the victory.
"That felt like heaven," Payne Jr. said. "We have never had that feeling before. We want to keep that going."
The joy was on the face of every player, and the community reciprocated that, erupting into a standing ovation as the clock ran out.
"You just want to finish. It was going through everyone's head. We wanted the win for the community and our fans here. There is nothing like it," said Ryan Stam, who scored a touchdown on offense and had three sacks, leading a dominating defensive effort. "We have fans 10 feet behind us here. You can hear everyone yelling. It was great."
West Ottawa Stadium is not like any other high school venue in the state. It has a 6,500 capacity with a double deck of stands on the pressbox side. There are also stands in each end zone and a large visiting section across the field.
State-of-the-art turf, stands, lockerrooms, concessions and round-the-field walkability make every vantage point a new and interesting look.
Giving the stadium a college football feel, the tunnel brings the players from the lockerroom under the stands to the field. It adds an extra layer of hype for the players going from a close-quartered tunnel with the team to the loud, electric atmosphere of the field and stands.
"I think we produced the finest high school facility in the state of Michigan," West Ottawa Athletic Director Bill Kennedy said just before kickoff.
With the new traditions, the Panthers are still making sure to honor their history, which saw a move from Panther Stadium at the current Harbor Lights Middle School, to West Ottawa Stadium.
"So much went into this with the leadership of this district and the community coming around this thing. It is quite overwhelming, but that is what it takes. We built that atmosphere tonight and it felt so good for our kids to see that support corral around these guys," West Ottawa coach Pat Collins said. "The atmosphere in the stadium was phenomenal."
There has been a lot of history in the program and Karl Von Ins, a former West Ottawa coach, teacher and administrator, has been there to see most of it. Von Ins has been the football announcer at West Ottawa the past 56 years.
The more-than-half-century tenure has not been lost on the Panthers, who named the press box announcing room the "Karl Von Ins Announcer Booth."
Von Ins started his 56th season with the opening of the stadium, the first to publicly say, "Welcome to West Ottawa Stadium."
The Panthers made themselves welcome.
After the opening touchdown, Portage Northern answered immediately with a 66-yard pass from Cane Mack to Jayden Walker to tie the game with 5:57 to go in the first quarter. But Tulgestke answered with a 24-yard TD pass to Matt Harrison.
Ryan Stam scored on a 3-yard run to start the second quarter to push the Panthers lead to 21-7. Meanwhile, Stam had a huge tackle for a loss to force a third three-and-out in a row.
Tulgestke was 6-for-15 passing for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Ruben Esparza had 18 rushes for 124 yards. Forbes had 20 carries for 96 yards.
Defensively, Stam had seven tackles, three sacks and four tackles for a loss. Damian Fernandez had 5.5 tackles.
"We wanted to put the pressure on them," Stam said.
Cooper Terpstra and Juan Gomez also combined for a sack.
"This coaching staff has been huge. They call came together and give us a plan and show us how to execute," Stam said. "They are turning this program around from the bottom to the top now."
Prior to the game, the Panthers honored the school board, construction leaders and community members who helped make the new stadium a reality.
Now, it is a reality.
It is a new reality for the football program, the soccer and lacrosse programs, the marching band (which got to march out of the tunnel for pregame), the cheerleading program, the school and the community.
New beginnings. New energy. New excitement. New era.
West Ottawa Stadium Firsts
First kickoff (first field goal, first opponent extra point and first punt): Avery Kucharski, Portage Northern
First kickoff return: Bryce Baldwin
First play from scrimmage: 1-yard run by Kayden Forbes
First pass (and first down): Cole Tulgestke to Matt Harrison 15 yards
First touchdown: Allen Payne Jr. 8-yard TD catch from Cole Tulgestke
First extra point (and first WO kickoff): Theo Borgman
First West Ottawa tackle: Ezekiel Perez and Ryan Stam
First penalty: Offsides on Portage Northern
First fourth down: West Ottawa fourth-and-3 on Portage Northern 8. Panthers went for it and scored on pass from Tulgestke to Payne Jr.
First opponent TD: Jadyen Walker on 66-yard pass from Cane Mack
First sack: Joseph Overway
First punt: Tyler Berens
First turnover: West Ottawa fumbled on a punt return and JT Cammack recovered
First interception: Tyler Berens
First halftime song: "Anyway You Want It" by Journey
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: West Ottawa Stadium opened in style with win 'like heaven' (VIDEO)