Top of the Highland
Six Evart players earn first teamEVART — It was a memorable season for Evart’s football team and the Wildcats were rewarded for their efforts with several players on the all-Highland Conference squad that was recently announced. The Wildcats were 7-2 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason, marking the first time in school history Evart has won a playoff game. Evart’s final record was 8-3. The Wildcats were 4-2 in the league, losing only to Beal City and Lake City. Beal City is in the state semifinals. Lake City, which defeated Evart twice, lost 28-12 to Ishpeming in the Division 7 regional finals last weekend. First-team players for Evart were: Austin Grein at running back, Brandon Albright on the offensive line, Devon VanOrder at defensive line, Robert Burge and Larry VanBuren at linebacker and John Danley at running back. Honorable mention players were Derek Bowen at linebacker and Chapman Long at tight end. Grein had 97 carries for 819 yards for 8.4 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns. “Austin was one of our four best players,” Craven said. “He came into his own this year. He led the team well and really took the reins in terms of leading the team and being that person the kids can look to when times got tough. I was pleased with his effort and where he came from last year.” VanOrder paved the way on the offensive line for a rushing attack that had 2,476 yards on 399 carries. Defensively, VanOrder had 62 tackles, one sack and one interception. “Most impressively is the freedom he gives our two inside linebackers and their pursuit to the football,” Craven said. Danley, as a running back had 102 carries for 602 yards, five pass catches for 82 yards and 18 touchdowns. Defensively, he had 55 tackles, plus three interceptions including one he returned for a touchdown. Albright, an offensive guard, also, along with VanOrder, helped to open holes for the running attack. “He was a big part of our running success,” Craven said. Burge had 87 tackles, one sack and three fumble recoveries. “He totally dominated our (opening) playoff game with his downhill pursuit of the football,” Craven said. VanBuren and Burge “are two very good inside linebackers,” Craven said. “They’re very smart and quick to making their reads and getting to where they need to be. They’re fast and tough and that always makes a good linebacker.” Craven praised Long for his blocking at tight end. “The last two years, he really helped the team be successful,” Craven said, adding that on spread sets, Long “stayed in as our tight end because he was such a good blocker and did a good job of catching the ball across the middle.” Bowen played two games at linebacker as a sophomore. “This year, he’s just a smart player there and very coachable,”’ Craven said. “‘He executed our game plan week in and week out.” Three Pine River football players also earned first-team all-Highland Conference honors this season. Devin Ruppert, Ethan Whitley and Dakota Wieczorek earned first-team honors for the Bucks. James Harvey and Maverick Martin were on the honorable mention list. Ruppert was an inside linebacker and offensive tackle for the Bucks. “He led the team with 131 tackles and had 236 for his career which is a Pine River record,” said Pine River coach Chad Phillips. Whitley is a tight end and linebacker for the Bucks. “He was a good blocker and caught the ball well from his tight end position,” Phillips said. “We had to use him at running back for several games due to injuries. He finished with 11 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also had 45 tackles on defense and was forced to play from the d-line to the secondary.” Wieczorek had 109 carries for 390 yards and had 173 yards receiving, which was second on the team. “When we could give him room to run, he could make some big plays,” Phillips said.