Rabideau’s words sparked off a wild celebration among the Lakers and their fans, and justifiably so. Spring Lake entered the game as big-time underdogs against a Fruitport team that was undefeated and ranked No. 7 in the state in Division 3.
“This is the biggest game I’ve evern been a part of,” said Lakers’ junior linebacker Jake Chittenden, who finished with a game-high 12.5 tackles against Fruitport’s run-heavy offense.
“We just worked so hard in practice, and we knew what we had to do to beat them. This was unbelievable. It’s just awesome.”
Both the Lakers (3-2, 3-1 Lakes Eight) and the Trojans (4-1, 3-1 Lakes Eight) made countless devastating mistakes through the first three-plus quarters, contributing to a scoreless game until midway through the fourth.
The Lakers finally got on the scoreboard as they marched 70 yards in just over 4 minutes. They converted on a fourth-and-2 play at their own 38-yard line when Fruitport jumped offsides on a hard count, then pounded the ball on the ground the rest of the way down the field, capped off by quarterback Keegan Wolter’s 2-yard run around the left side for the touchdown.
Carter Bench’s point-after kick gave the Lakers a 7-0 lead with 6:09 remaining in the game.
The Trojans quickly responded. Quarterback Tyler Fehler connected with Zack Goldman on a 35-yard pass down to the Lakers’ 24-yard line, then moments later, on a broken play, Fehler scrambled 20 yards for a touchdown with 3:10 to play.
The point-after snap was high, and that threw off the timing of the kick, which went wide left, sparking a jubilant celebration among the Lakers.
Spring Lake got the ball back and burned nearly the entire three-plus minutes off the clock. Their drive stalled inside the Trojans’ 10-yard line with just 8.3 seconds remaining, and Fruitport wasn’t able to pull off a magical play to win the game.
“Spring Lake played a great game,” said Fruitport coach Steve Wilson. “They made mistakes, but they outplayed us. ... Jerry did a great job getting them ready to play. I thought we were mentally ready to play football tonight. It’s frustrating to finally get something going, then turn the ball over.”
The Trojans shot themselves in the foot with constant mistakes. Twice, they jumped offsides to give Spring Lake key first downs. They fumbled the ball away twice.
Several times, they had fourth downs with short yardage to go, and failed to pick up the first down, including on their opening drive of the game inside the Lakers’ 25-yard line.
Later in the first quarter, the Trojans’ Mike Reyes blocked a Lakers’ punt and Fruitport recovered at the Spring Lake 37. Moments later, they came up inches short on a fourth-and-2 play from the Lakers’ 13.
Spring Lake also made its share of mistakes. The Lakers’ best drive of the first half ended when Wolter forced a pass into double coverage at the goal line, leading to an interception by Fehler.
The Trojans’ ensuing drive lasted just three plays as Reyes’ heave on a halfback pass as he was falling to the turf was intercepted by Spring Lake’s Johnny Mundt.
Early in the third quarter, Spring Lake took advantage of back-to-back 15-yard penalties against Fruitport, driving deep into the Trojans’ territory before Wolter fumbled the ball away at the 4-yard line. The Trojans then marched 40 yards before fumbling the ball back to Spring Lake.
The Trojans’ third turnover of the night came early in the fourth as they were driving inside the Lakers’ 30-yard line. The snap was never secured by Fehler, and the Lakers’ Cody Berkobien pounced on the loose ball. That set up Spring Lake’s game-winning drive.
“We felt good about this game all week long with our practices,” an ecstatic Rabideau said. “We felt that Fruitport had not truly been tested, and we felt our home fans had not had the opportunity to see us play like we’re capable of playing.
“I never expected this type of game. I thought it would be a high-powered offensive game, but the defense played well on both sides. We as coaches can put the kids in the right position, but the kids have to make the plays, and they did that tonight. They won the game with their determination.”
The Lakers’ Chittenden and Berkobien led that defense, holding Fruitport’s high-powered offense to 270 total yards.
Fehler was effective through the air, connecting on all seven of his passes for 96 yards, but the Trojans’ running game never got on track. Reyes finished with 70 yards on 14 carries, but the Trojans’ other two big backs — Logan Six and Goldman — managed just 55 combined yards on 15 carries. Fehler had 47 rushing yards for Fruitport.
Fruitport’s defense also played well. Linebacker Matt Schucker was in on a number of plays and finished with eight tackles. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on Wolter, sacking the Lakers’ signal caller four times. That took away any deep routes the Lakers hoped to run, so Wolter settled for bubble screens and other short routes. He finished completing 7-of-12 passes for 65 yards and one interception.
Wolter also ran the ball 23 times for 85 yards. T.J. Kriger added 42 yards on the ground while Berkobien ran for 28 yards and Mundt added 24.
Rabideau said the Lakers’ coaching staff tried to shake things up to keep the Trojans’ defense off balance.
“We came into our Sunday meeting and said, ‘How can we mix things up to make it so we’re not predictable,’” Rabideau said. “We can’t line up and run it toe-to-toe with Fruitport, so we ran a lot of bubbles. We worked the perimeter, then in the fourth quarter, we were able to run tackle-to-tackle.”
Rabideau said he’ll never forget the looks on the faces of his players, and the Lakers’ students, as they sat kneeling on the field waiting for his postgame comments.
“This is one of the greatest joys of my coaching career,” Rabideau said. “Every one of them had the same look on their face as my football players, of sheer joy.”