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Lakers celebrate resilience in final game of the season

Duncan MacLean • Oct 21, 2017 at 1:16 AM

When rebuilding a football program, sometimes you have to bottom out before you can turn it around.

The Spring Lake football team finished their season 0-9 for just the second time in history Friday with a 47-20 loss to O-K Blue Conference foe Comstock Park.

Despite the result, second year head coach Dan Start was encouraged by his team’s progress and mindful of the strides they took over the course of the season.

“It was a tough season of ups and downs. We saw a lot of good things, just not enough to outweigh the bad,” he said. “It is a building process, it just stinks that we are in the middle of it.”

The ninth loss of the year came on senior night for the Lakers, who said goodbye to nine integral members of their football team. In their presumptive two years at the varsity level, the Lakers won just two games, making their resilience and passion for the game all the more evident.

“Their resilience is amazing,” Start said. “They could have given up numerous times. I respect them so much for showing up every week and working hard and leaving it all on the field. They could have quit, they could have packed it up and not given a hard effort, but they didn’t. That shows a lot about their upbringing, about their families, and just about who they are as people and I really respect them for that.

“I love them all, everybody did such a great job. I told them it stinks that we didn’t get a win this year, but we won’t let the season go for nothing. We are going to continue to build this so that they can walk around with the SL on their chest and be proud of that.”

Jason Keena, Griffin Lorimer, Zachary Lisman, Gavin Paul, Sam France, Hunter Braginton, Hunter Rose, Dylan Henshaw and Zachary Bennink leave the Laker program with a legacy of support, tenacity and an unrivaled love for the game.

“They mean everything, I’m best buds with these guys. We spend a lot of time together, it is a family out there,” Keena said. “I just love the game, and I love the guys I play with. This year has been the best year for team chemistry, it was just a ball of fun.

“This experience has taught me to be respectful, it has taught me to keep fighting even when you are down and to never quit.”

As for their final game on the Bayou, the group did Grabinski field proud, putting on one of their better offensive performances of the season and fighting to the bitter end of a 47-20 loss to the visiting Panthers.

Comstock Park took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, putting the Lakers in a 7-0 hole early. They responded with gusto, kicking off their touchdown drive with a 20-yard reception by Keena. Gavin Paul and quarterback Caleb Montgomery took control of the running game, driving the Lakers into Panther territory.

Their first hangup came just over the 50 yardline, as Comstock recognized a legitimate attack and forced fourth down. Coach Start elected to go for it, calling Montgomery up the gut, he converted, enabling the drive to rumble on, eventually finishing it off with another 1-yard run. A missed extra point would leave them trailing, 6-7.

The fourth-down conversion became a theme for the game; the Lakers finished 4-for-5 on final-down tries over the course of the contest.

“Why not,” Start said of the gutsy play calling. “Why not go, these kids are working hard and they wanted to go after it and we figured, why not. Let’s be aggressive and go after it.”

The Panthers responded with a home run, breaking off a 64-yard touchdown run to bring a 14-6 lead into the second quarter.

Spring Lake would start the second quarter driving. Another conversion by Montgomery on fourth-and-five kept the run alive, before a long reception by Keena advanced the cause. Looking to tie the game with a touchdown from the Panther 29-yard line, Montgomery took to the air, throwing a pick-6 to give Comstock a 21-6 lead.

On the ensuing drive, the Lakers wouldn’t make it past their own 10-yard line with three straight negative plays. A shanked punt gave the Panthers prime field position inside Laker territory and they took advantage, scoring on their first play on a 20-yard touchdown pass to take a 28-6 lead.

Another pick by Montgomery would cut Spring Lake’s next possession short and give the Panthers the ball at their own 45-yard line. This time, the Laker defense held strong, halting a potent Comstock Park offense at the 14-yard line, forcing a field goal. The kick was good, bringing a 31-6 lead into halftime.

A long return by Noah Verlinde to kick off the second half set up Spring Lake’s most efficient drive yet. Starting from the Comstock Park 45-yard line, it seemed as though they were stuck. Three plays for no gain saw another fourth-down try. Montgomery connected with Austin Schubert on the sideline for a 30-yard gain, setting up a 2-yard Montgomery touchdown rush, cutting the lead to 31-13.

The Panthers converted another 20-yard passing touchdown to retake their 25-point lead.

True to form, the resilient Lakers responded again. Two completions to Noah Verlinde and Keena, plus an 11-yard run by Paul marched them down the field inside the Panther 10-yard line. Two tough runs gained just three yards before Montgomery took it himself. He busted out of the pocket, broke a sure-fire sack attempt in the backfield and slinked his way into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game, cutting the Panther lead to just 18 points at the end of the third quarter.

From there, Comstock turned on the jets. Sitting at just five wins coming into the game, their playoff berth was on the line. They would pin Spring Lake for a safety and score another touchdown in the fourth to bring the game to its final tally.

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