The four-time defending Division 5 state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons paid a visit to Grabinski Field on Friday night and taught the Spring Lake football team a few lessons, racking up a 41-0 victory.
“Our focus here is to get better,” Spring Lake head coach Dan Start said. “Even when we went into halftime, we told the guys, ‘We have 24 minutes of opportunity to get better here. Why waste the time on the field? Tonight was about going to work and doing the best you can to improve.”
The Falcons did their worst in the first half, putting up 14 points in the first quarter with two fourth-down scoring plays. The first came after a series of redzone stops by the Laker defense, setting up fourth-and-six. West Catholic quarterback Gaetano Vallone dropped back under pressure and delivered a strike into the endzone, rendering the defensive effort meaningless.
The second Falcon touchdown came via home run, as Vallone connected for a 34-yard touchdown pass from fourth-and-four to go up by two scores.
“We couldn’t cover the slant in the first four series,” Start said. “It is tough giving up two quick scores like that. But, you have to keep grinding. The clock isn’t magically going to turn to zero, you an either cry and feel bad for yourself, or you can pick yourself up, toughen up and find a way to get better and improve.”
The Laker defense did just that, kicking off the second quarter with a stand. After a long Falcon drive into the redzone, the Laker defense pushed back, forcing West Catholic back to the 21-yard line on third and goal.
The success was short lived. The Falcons were unfazed, dropping a wide-open 21-yard touchdown pass to extend their lead. A failed two-point conversion attempt left them up, 20-0, early in the second quarter.
The Lakers continued to struggle on offense as they punted away their next series, only to watch it returned for West Catholic’s fourth touchdown of the evening with 7:30 left to play in the half.
From there, the Laker defense held strong, holding West Catholic to a failed 15-yard field goal attempt on their next drive. Spring Lake Junior starting quarterback Caleb Montgomery would fumble away the ensuing possession, sending the defense out for another ride.
Cornerback Noah Verlinde responded heartily, picking off Vallone to thwart the Falcons’ final scoring chance of the half, bringing the Falcons’ 27-0 lead into halftime.
“Outside of the punt return for the touchdown, once we started covering that slant and tightened things up a little bit, we were ok,” Start said. “I think they relaxed a little bit. We have a habit of coming out really tight. We are afraid to make a mistake. In the second half I told them, just relax and play loose. If something happens, it happens, just trust yourself.”
The pep talked worked, as the Falcons converted just two touchdowns in the second half. On the flip side, the Laker offense began to find their stride under new management.
Griffin Lorimer took over at quarterback for Spring Lake in the second half. His first series under center resulted in a punt, allowing West Catholic to take the ensuing drive down the field and cap it off with a 27-yard touchdown rush, pushing their lead to 35-0.
In his second series leading the offense, Lorimer led the Lakers 55 yards down the field to the West Catholic 35-yard line, before throwing an interception as the third quarter expired.
The Falcons took the turnover the length of the field, finishing off the drive with a 4-yard quarterback sneak to cap off scoring for the evening, leading 41-0 with 7:11 left to play.
On their final possession of the evening, Spring Lake threatened to score on the heels of some impressive quarterback play by Lorimer.
A few successful passes to Austin Schubert and keepers up the gut drove the Lakers 79-yards to the West Catholic 1-yard line, but the running clock saved the shutout as time expired before Spring Lake could punch in their score.
The time under center for the recently healthy Lorimer was encouraging for Start, who sees the change s a catalyst for success all over the field.
“We don’t have a new starting quarterback, but we will have a rotation now. Griffin played well enough where I think he can do some things in the passing game for us that are really good,” he said. “He makes great decisions throwing the ball. Caleb, though, is getting there and developing as a quarterback and he does some great things running the ball.
“They will both get to play on offense and defense now. We were hesitant to play Caleb on defense before because he was our only option at quarterback. Now, we can have two athletes on both sides of the ball and rotating at quarterback.
“I’m excited for both of them, I think our offense really took a step forward this week.”
Spring Lake returns to the field against Grand Rapids Catholic Central next week at home.