Hard-hitting Bay City Western defense readies for Traverse City test in district final
AUBURN, MI – Chris Willertz wants his Bay City Western soccer team to set the tone tough.
Even if the biggest hitters on his team are the kicker and the punter.
“They love to hit,” said Willertz. “When you have guys like that, the other guys gather around you because that’s how they want to play.”
It doesn’t hurt that Western’s kickoff man Conner Chope and punter Dylan Reynolds kick the bum as linebackers at the same time. Along with John Irvine, they give the Warriors a trio of Saginaw Valley League supporters who lead the quest for a district championship.
Number 10 of the Westerns (8-2) meets number 3 Traverse City Central (9-1) in the District 2 Football Final of Division 2 on Friday at 7 p.m. at Thirlby Field in Traverse City. Western hasn’t played for a district title since 2008 and aims to be an all-time district champion of the program in the 2002 and 2005 cadres.
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Though Western caused a stir this season with his powerful running attack – with quarterback Logan O’Hare and running back Joe Wiedyk on the ground for 2,900 yards and 40 TDs – his defense was just as physical.
The Warriors took second place in overall defense and No. 1 in emergency defense in SVL Nord. And the linebacker corps was at the center of the action.
“Often times, your linebackers’ play determines how good your defense is,” said Willertz, a former defensive lineman at Michigan State University.
Chope, Reynolds and Irvine form a three-headed monster in the middle, each of which acts as a tough linebacker for the thunder. And that doesn’t stop even when they switch to their special team roles.
“Dylan is our player. And he stabbed it against Dow, the guy comes back about 15 yards and Dylan sets him on fire on the sidelines, ”said Willertz.
“The boys want it so badly. How can you not love children who want it so badly? “
The defense was a huge question mark for Westerns that led into this season. The Warriors lost virtually all of their defensive coaching staff and basically promoted their JV coaches to colleges, including first year coordinator Mark Wegener.
“My challenge in working with a whole new defensive team was making sure they were up to the task, making sure we are all on the same page, and making sure they can take me on because I can be difficult be to work with me, ”said Willertz. “But they took the ball and ran with it.”
On Friday they are faced with a daunting task. Traverse City Central have won nine games in a row since the season opener defeat by reigning national champions DeWitt. The Trojans averaged 48.2 points per game, scoring 60 against a strong Marquette team and 56 against Birmingham Brother Rice.
Quarterback Josh Burnham is a Notre Dame commit to linebackers and an MLive Player of the Year finalist. He is surrounded by assault weapons Dante Williams and Carson Bourdo at the receiver and Parker Schmidt while walking back. And the entire start-up offensive has college offers.
“We tell our boys not to believe the hype,” said Willertz. “Don’t think they’re going to beat us because they have a quarterback going to Notre Dame. Don’t think they’re better than you for having DI types. You don’t have to be a DI athlete to be a great soccer player and to be on a great soccer team.
“We can be as good as we want.”
Western wants to build on what is already a magical season. The program hadn’t produced a successful season since 2012 and was caught in an 18-game bankruptcy not that long ago. But in fourth grade under Willertz, the upper class ensured that the program turned the corner.
Only four western teams have won more games than this year’s roster, which became a Saginaw Valley League North title contender with its first win over Midland since 2008 and first wins over Bay City Central and Midland Dow since 2012.
“Beating Midland High, Midland Dow and Central in the same season suggests an amazing season,” said Willertz. “And if it’s a great season, why should it end now?”
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to the regional final to face Muskegon winner Mona Shores vs. Caledonia.
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