Rabideau certainly didn’t expect this.
Chittenden has been tremendous during his first varsity campaign, leading the playoff-bound Lakers in both solo tackles (43) and assists (67). He’s also recorded a sack among his 1.5 tackles for loss and four pass break-ups from his free safety spot.
During a season in which nearly every aspect of the Lakers’ game has been inconsistent, Chittenden has been one rock-solid constant.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for his game,” said Rabideau, whose 6-3 Lakers play at 7-2 Comstock Park on Friday night in the opening round of the Division 4 state playoffs.
“I knew he was going to be a solid football player at some time in his career. I had no idea he’d be this good of a football player, this impactful. Every game he plays, he gets better.
“He’s so smart. He moves to the ball well, he reads well, he understands the big picture of what teams are trying to do, and he plays on way, which enables him to stay fresh.”
Chittenden is slow to acknowledge his individual success this fall, choosing instead to put his focus on the team. He realizes that when a safety is leading his team in tackles, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
“Our defense has been pretty solid up front, and at linebacker,” Chittenden said. “What we need to work on most is our pass coverage. We just need to focus on it more in practice this week.”
The 2011 season has been a head-scratching campaign for the injury-plagued Lakers. They opened with a disappointing 33-31 loss at Whithehall, lit up the scoreboard for 50 points in a win over Ludington, then suffered a surprising loss to Lakes Eight foe Fremont.
A defense that couldn’t get off the field in a 69-40 win over Tri-County bounced back to nearly pitch a shutout with a dazzling performance in a season-changing 7-6 win over rival Fruitport.
Just when it looked like everything was coming together for the Lakers, their four-game win streak was snapped by a struggling Coopersville team last Friday, 49-35. In that game, the Broncos threw for over 300 yards.
“We started off slow, we had that win streak, then we lost to Coopersville. We’ve been a little up and down,” Chittenden said. “Beating Fruitport gave us some confidence that we could play better. That got us going for the second half of our season.”
The Lakers managed to win a share of the Lakes Eight Conference title, which was one of their goals for this fall. Another goal is to make the state playoffs, and win in Week 10. The Lakers have lost their last six opening-round playoff games, with their last postseason win coming against Orchard View in 2001 — the year after they advanced to the state finals.
“One of our main goals this year is to get to the playoffs and win in the first round,” Chittenden said. “We’re here. Now we have to go out and win.”
Comstock Park runs a spread attack, and the Panthers are proficient at getting into the end zone. They’ve scored at least 30 points in seven of their nine games, and topped the 40-point mark four times.
If the Lakers hope to accomplish their goal of winning in Week 10, Chittenden and his defensive mates will need to play their best game of the season.
“We just made some mistakes against Coopersville,” Chittenden said. “If we can correct those and don’t make the same mistakes against Comstock Park, we’ll be OK.”
Rabideau knows better to doubt his team heading into Friday’s game. Afterall, the past nine weeks have been one surprise after another. Some have been disappointing, but others, like the play of Chittenden, have been pleasant surprises.
“He’s our leading tackle, the unsung hero of our defense,” Rabideau said. “He’s earned my respect. This young man comes to play. I knew he was going to be a good football player, but I had no idea he would be this good.”