It’s Green Gang versus Maroon Platoon Friday night
Coloma Comets meet Watervliet at Panther Stadium…continuing 100+ year tradition
By Kristy Noack
Tradition. Legacy. Rivalry. No matter what you call it fans of local football know there is no larger gridiron game than when the Comets of Coloma take on the Panthers of Watervliet.
It is a rite of passage that young men will strap on chin guards and shoulder pads when the air turns crisp and leaves begin to change from green to orange.
Football players take the field, bursting through paper banners made by the cheerleading squad, for the final time of the regular season – and often their football career.
This Friday is that night for Coloma and Watervliet.
WATERVLIET FALL VARSITY CHEER TEAM… Pictured (from the left): Front Row – Rikki Peek, Kenzie Warren, Kaelyn Schadler, Riley McKinney, Bailey Swisher; Back Row – Kayla Hoy, Daisy Montejano, Kylee Warren, Coach Ginnette Chapin, Adrianna Rutherford, Jazlynn Cowgill, Abby Burrows. (Photo by Shawn Mead Photography)
Gang Green. Maroon Platoon. Green and gold. Maroon and white. Coloma head coach Joe Stephens battling it out with Watervliet head coach Jeremy Andrews. The last game of the regular season is here and for these two teams, it is big.
Eight games have been completed in this 2017 season. Coloma holds a 5-3 record and will travel east along Red Arrow High to Panther Stadium Friday, October 20 to take on the perfect 8-0 Watervliet squad in the final, regular season game of the season.
The Panthers are playoff-bound. The Comets, however, are seeking one final win – a last chance grasp – to make the playoff bracket for the first time since 2008.
The tradition of Coloma and Watervliet football dates back over 100 years. The first game between the teams was played on November 4, 1909. The Comets posted the 12-0 shutout over the Panthers.
And from there, legacies for both schools were born.
In the early years, the teams often met twice during the year. It was in 1932 that they whittled their meetings down to once a year.
The two squads met faithfully through the 2011 game. Due to a move by Coloma into the Wolverine Conference, the collision of the rivals on the gridiron screeched to a halt. Coloma and Watervliet did not face each other from 2012 through 2014, ending the 100-year matchup.
In 2015, Coloma switched conferences again, this time to the Southwestern Athletic Conference, of which Watervliet was a member, and the game was back on, although not as the final game of the season as it had been previously.
At that meeting, the Panthers pounded the Comets 54-13.
But, that wasn’t the largest scoring gap the two teams shared. In 2007, Coloma crushed Watervliet 56-6.
The smallest of scoring margins came in the years of 1920, the first game of 1923, 1924’s second game, 1928, and 1933 when the teams played to ties.
One-point differences were recorded in 1925, 1949, 1950, 1952 and 2005 games.
If you ask locals, old-timers, and die-hard football fans, the greatest game of the season is held the final Friday of the season and it always includes the Comets versus the Panthers.
Now, after being the third-game of the season in 2015 and 2016, the battle returns to the final Friday of the regular season and football fever is running high.
Andrews acknowledges the excitement and importance of the game to all involved – the players, the community, the fans.
“It’s a big game for sure,” Andrews commented. “The schools and towns are so close that a lot of the kids know each other. That makes it more personal.
COLOMA VARSITY SIDE-LINE CHEER TEAM… pictured (from the left): Front Row – Katelyn Johnson, Izy Stevens, Kayla Smith, Dasha Hogan; Back Row – Micayla Rodgers, Amber Street, Coach Christen Smith, Mallory Spaulding and Emily Greenman. (Photo by Shawn Mead Photography)
“It’s also a little bigger this year because it’s the first time in a while both teams are pretty good, in addition to being the last game of the regular season (which it was traditionally for years) for the first time since 1998.
“The fact that Coloma needs the win to qualify for the playoffs adds another layer to the game as well.
“The game certainly gets the community excited. I have had a few people tell me this week that some of their family members, friends, etc. who do not normally come to games are planning to come this Friday. Definitely some anticipation.”
Stephens agrees. “We have gotten our community excited about football again, and I know they are excited to have us represent them each and every Friday. They will be out in full force as they have been all year.
“As coaches,” Stephens continued, “we are trying to treat this game the way that we approach each week. We have gotten to where we are by focusing on our process. Watervliet’s style of play often causes teams to change their identity for a week. Our guys bought into our program, and we are going to play our brand of football.”
Coloma’s quarterback Zach Goodline will match wits with Watervliet quarterback Zack Pickens. Levi Wilkens of Coloma will keep pace pass for pass with Watervliet’s Bryant Kieft.
Jamane Smith Jr. will pound out the yards for Coloma as will Garrett Matthews of Watervliet.
Stephens said, “Watervliet is obviously explosive on offense. They have a lot of weapons, and they pass protect well. We need to make them run plays and not allow them to have the game-changing, long touchdown plays that they thrive on. Our ability to pursue the ball on defense is one of our great strengths, and it is critical that we continue to do that this week.”
Andrews has a single-minded focus for Friday. “We have to stop the run first and foremost. They want to run the ball to set up some play action passes. If we can turn them into a passing team we will have done our job on defense.”
Personally speaking, I can concur that this game, above all others, is what is at the heart of football. I can vividly remember watching my cousin Clint stand on the sidelines in his gold jersey with green letters and “EVETT” stitched across the back. I remember holding my hot chocolate and thinking it was pretty cool to see my relative down on the field. Belonging to a team, belonging to a town.
The Coloma/Watervliet contest is where hearts can be broken – as well as arms and legs. The game has been played with blue, sunny skies, driving rain, and snow. Always, always there is trash talking, tackles with a little extra oomph, and referees getting extra insight from the fans in the stands.
It is Coloma. It is Watervliet. It is football.