The Spring Lake football team hosted the top-ranked squad in Division 4 on Friday night when the defending state champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars came to town.
It was a familiar setting for the hosts, as the Lakers took on the top-ranked team in Division 5 just a week prior in the Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons, who are the four-time defending Division 5 state champs.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the similar setting supplied similar results.
The Cougars used a dynamic passing attack on offense and a ball-hawk defense that forced six turnovers to cruise to a 47-0 shutout win over Spring Lake.
“Playing West Catholic last week and Catholic Central this week is only going to make us better in the long run,” said Spring Lake head coach Dan Start. “Our kids were in the locker room at halftime, down by a few scores, and they were excited to get back out there because they wanted to get better.
“That’s exciting to me when a team is down, and they still want to get out there and play and not waste an opportunity to get better. Similar to our game at Sparta, we did some things that weren’t good early on in the game, and that kind of snowballed on us. You can’t turn the ball over like that against a team like that and not expect them to make you pay for it.”
The Cougars got things rolling early, using an impressive passing display with senior quarterback Jack Bowen to drive down the field on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead over the Lakers.
After a three-and-out by the Spring Lake offense, Catholic Central running back Nate Fugate dashed 55 yards for another Cougars’ touchdown to bring the score to 14-0 with six minutes left in the first quarter.
Another three-and-out by the Lakers gave Catholic Central excellent field position again, and it wouldn’t take long for them to take advantage. On the first play of their drive, Bowen connected on a 60-yard bomb for another Cougars’ touchdown to extend their lead to 21-0.
The Lakers attempted to get their offense going with an aerial attack on their next drive, but the Cougars shut that gameplan down, as well, intercepting Spring Lake’s first pass attempt to take over inside Laker territory.
Bowen would quickly add his third touchdown pass of the day from 20 yards out to give Catholic Central a 27-0 lead before the first quarter expired.
The Cougars would pick off another passing attempt on the ensuing drive, but the Laker defense would stand tall and hold the Cougars to a field goal to hold the score to 30-0.
The Spring Lake offense continued to struggle, as a Cougar defender would step in front of a quick pass to the sidelines and return it 30 yards for a defensive score.
At that point, the scoreboard was lopsided and the momentum was heavily in favor of the visitors from Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
The Lakers would pick up a first down for the first time on the next drive with 8:10 left in the second quarter, but a fumble on the next set of downs would allow the Cougars to add another field goal to their lead and go into the locker room with a 40-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, a running clock and collection of running plays would limit the action to one more score — a 3-yard touchdown run by the Cougars — to bring the final score to 47-0 in favor of the defending Division 4 state champions.
“We came out in the second half and made some strides, especially on defense,” Start added. “I thought Caleb (Montgomery) threw the ball a lot better in the second half than he did in the first. I think a lot of that was because he calmed down and played within himself and relaxed.
“We finally started to execute on offense in that second half. They have an amazing defense. It’s like a hurricane coming at you out there with the amount of athletes they throw at you. I think that pressure got to Caleb early on, and he had some errant throws to start the game.”
For a run-based option team, establishing an effective passing attack is an uphill climb. According to Start, the first step to success is calming down his young quarterback.
“We just need to calm him down and just have him throw some footballs without putting too much pressure on himself,” he said. “We’ve barely thrown the ball until about three weeks ago, because we’re a two-tight wishbone team, and that’s not really something we lean on.
“It’s going to take some time to develop that passing game, especially in a spread look, so we’ll continue to work on that and fine-tune it, so it’s more effective.”
After the game, Start spoke with his team for five minutes about continuing to bring energy to each practice and fighting to get better.
“I just told them that I’m excited. You can see the little improvements each week, and we have nothing to hang our heads about,” Start added. “I don’t think anybody in the state has back-to-back state champions on their schedule like we just did, and that’s only going to make us a more competitive team moving forward.
“We’re excited for our next challenge at Coopersville next week. They’ve made our some major improvements this year, and we just want to go out there and compete against good teams and try and get better.”
The Lakers (0-5) will travel to Coopersville (3-2) next week, while Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-0) will host Sparta (4-1).