The headline on that sports cover reads, “SL’s sweet redemption,” signifying Spring Lake’s 7-6 upset victory over the Trojans last season.
“I’m hoping tomorrow it will read ‘Sweet redemption for Fruitport,’” Gordon said with a grin. “That would make me happy, I promise.”
Maybe a future in sports writing awaits, but for now, the red-headed Gordon has plenty of reasons to be happy to be Blue.
Fruitport’s lock-down defense forced Spring Lake to turn the ball over three times in rainy conditions, and the Trojans also received a huge 81-yard kickoff return by sophomore Mitchell Reyes — setting up the would-be game-winning points on a field goal by Matt Boroff— solidifying the Trojans’ 15-6 victory on Friday at Fruitport High School.
Gordon, who battled through calf cramps late in the contest and was also running on a slightly sprained ankle, capped the victory with a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:22 to play.
With the win, Fruitport not only improves to 3-0, but also takes a huge step in its quest at repeating as the Lakes Eight Conference champions. Spring Lake, meanwhile, is left wondering what could have been. The Lakers have committed 10 turnovers in their opening three games and now are staring at a 1-2 record.
“These first three games have been a gauntlet,” said Spring Lake coach Jerry Rabideau. “But the goal now is to get our six, seven wins and know we have played some quality competition. I think we can run the table. We can definitely get to six, seven wins and then we’ll be out to prove ourselves in the playoffs. For now, we’ll hope someone can knock off Fruitport, so we can stay in the hunt for the conference championship.”
Fruitport can now claim to be the first victors of the newly created “Bayou Battle,” and the owners of a traveling trophy in shape of a canoe paddle. The paddle features both school’s colors and will soon be inscribed with Friday’s final score.
“Hopefully we’ll paint it blue, all of it,” joked Fruitport senior Amilio Flores. “It’s just an awesome feeling, especially with what we went through last year against Spring Lake.”
Furthermore, both schools raised money for charities of their choice in the weeks leading up to the spirited rivalry. More than $1,800 was raised between the two communities for Spring Lake’s choice of The People Center, and Fruitport’s No More Sidelines.
It appeared early that Spring Lake was intent on stealing more headlines in the rivalry. After a scoreless first quarter, the Lakers struck first on the scoreboard thanks to a 50-yard fullback dive up the middle by Cody Berkobein, which set up quarterback Jake Chittenden’s 1-yard sneak for a score. The extra point was wide right.
Fruitport sent the contest to the half deadlocked at 6-all, however, thanks to a tremendous defensive effort by Gordon.
After a badly-thrown interception by Fruitport’s Tyler Fehler, Spring Lake turned the ball over right back to the Trojans after Gordon ripped the ball away from a Spring Lake ball carrier at the 16 yard line.
“Every day in practice we run a thing called ‘strip drill,’ and one day our quarterback, Tyler (Fehler), asked coach, ‘Why do we do this? It’s dumb,’” Gordon said.
“(Fehler) had a strip last game, and tonight, I got one, so I’d say it’s paying off.”
Gordon was rewarded for his effort on Fruitport’s next offensive play, as the shifty back scampered off a block by left tackle Chris Hendricks and into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. Fruitport’s extra point was also no good.
Reyes, a sophomore, provided a burst of excitement to open the second half, as his 81-yard jolt through a seam gave the Trojans’ tremendous field position.
“There’s been a couple times when our special teams have really helped us out,” said Fruitport head coach Greg Vargas, who is now 1-0 against Spring Lake as a head coach. “I guess the old adage says, ‘when one area isn’t working, you need to lean on another part.’”
Fruitport’s drive stalled, but the Trojans went ahead on a 29-yard field goal by Boroff.
Spring Lake seemed ready to put together a game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter, as it threatened with a 20-yard run off an option pitch by Berkobien. But the Lakers fumbled on third down from the 25, and on fourth and 8 from the 28, Chittenden’s desperation pass was incomplete.
The Trojans put the game away with a stellar final 72-yard drive, which included a key third-down conversion pass to Flores on third and 13.
“I was just so happy, so relieved I caught it,” Flores said.
Gordon added the exclamation point, as he was stopped short on his run at the 2-yard line, but kept his legs chugging and powered into the end zone. He led the Trojans with 73 yards rushing, and was also in on 11 tackles from his middle linebacker position.
Both quarterbacks struggled to throw in the sloppy conditions, but Fehler produced the best, completing 3-of-11 passes for 56 yards.
Berkobien led the Lakers’ ground game with 110 yards on 14 carries, but again suffered a late-game shoulder injury and his expected to miss next week’s game against Grant.
“It’s tough because nobody works harder on and off the field than Cody,” Rabideau said.
Rabideau was also visibly frustrated with Spring Lake’s multiple personal foul penalties, the final one giving Fruitport a valuable first down on its final drive.
“It’s difficult to win ball games when we keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said.
As for Vargas’ feet, they were perched on cloud nine. He tried to downplay the importance of the game throughout the week, but after the victory, he realized how much it meant.
“I maybe underestimated the appeal of this game,” he said with a smile. “The kids put so much time and effort into this and to come out on top, it’s a pretty good feeling. I think the kids are more happy for me, which makes it all pretty special.”