Despite finishing third in their league during the regular season and being an underdog for most of their postseason games, Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Mich., has won the state Division 5 high school football championship.
It’s the first state title in football for the Crusaders, who won the championship on November 24 with a 42-7 victory at Ford Field, home of the National Football League's Detroit Lions. Unity Christian had made the Michigan high school football playoffs seven out of the previous eight seasons and in 2016 reached the state semifinals.
After winning seven games and losing two during the regular season, Unity Christian defeated five consecutive opponents in the state playoffs, starting with a stunning 41-22 upset of a Grand Rapids school that had won the last five state titles.
“I think that that win gave the guys some confidence as we headed into a pretty tough playoff run,” said Craig Tibbe, who began the football program at Unity Christian in 2003 and has been the Crusaders' head coach ever since. “Playing a tough conference schedule had them prepared for the quality teams they faced as they moved through the playoffs.”
A week later, Unity Christian trailed by 27 points at halftime in the district championship game, but the Crusaders scored 32 points in the second half to pull out a thrilling 40-37 win. The Crusaders then later defeated the two highest-ranked teams in their division to win the state championship.
“This team found out how important they were to each other and how to trust each other. They pulled together, realizing they were brought together for a reason and it was up to them to make the most of the opportunity,” said Tibbe, who attends Second Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Mich.