Four years had passed since the Spring Lake football team had an opportunity to get familiar with the oar trophy that is awarded to the winner of the Battle on the Bayou rivalry game with Fruitport.
The long wait made Thursday night's celebration at Doc Pierce Field that much sweeter for the Lakers, as the Spring Lake players carried the oar back to a mob of fans at the conclusion of the team's 49-20 over Fruitport.
"This is the best feeling ever," said senior tailback Mitch Payne after posing for pictures with the oar. "There's not much more I could have asked for than winning the oar back for my school in my senior year. We really wanted this one, and I'm glad we got the job done."
After only scoring a combined 94 points last season, the Lakers have already recorded 91 points in two games this fall. The offense is clicking so well that not even the players know how to describe it.
"I definitely wasn't expecting that," Payne admitted. "I went into the game thinking that it was going to be tough getting any extra yards against Fruitport because they are notoriously a pretty tough team to run on. I have to give credit to our offensive line though. They were opening up holes for us and everything seemed to be worked well.
"There's so much more chemistry this year. Everybody trusts each other and wants to succeed for the team."
PLAYING FOR A FRIEND
Spring Lake was also playing with heavy hearts Thursday, as the team dedicated their performance to a former classmate who died earlier this week.
"Going 0-9 doesn't really sit well with us, and there was plenty of motivation to find in that, but we also came into this one playing for a friend of ours who recently passed away," added Payne.
"Jarred Coleman was a couple years older than us, but everyone on the team knew him. He got in a really bad car accident last week and passed away. This game was for him."
The Spring Lake offense finished with 360 yards rushing, highlighted by senior quarterback Caleb Montgomery, who rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, and was 4-for-7 passing for 120 yards and one touchdown strike to Aleck Frederick to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Payne added 79 yards and two scores on 12 carries, while Zack Keyser added 71 yards and one touchdown on eight carries.
Emanuel Wilson led the Laker wideouts with a 60-yard reception, while Austin Schubert added a 49-yard catch and Aidan Carlson added a 35-yard reception.
"We are really just doing basic stuff, but we're executing better," said Spring Lake head coach Dan Start of his offense's effectiveness in 2018. "Our goal this year was to keep it simple and be as effective as we can, and it helps when you have someone like Caleb running the offense that is such a dual-threat athlete. We also have kids like Mitch Payne that can run hard between the tackles and a big offensive line that has been working their tails off all offseason."
After a less than stellar start last week against Orchard View, Start changed the pace at practice in hopes that it would carry over to the game.
"Last week, we came out slow and looked sluggish," he said. "So, we changed our practice routine a little this week and starting our practice faster and got into our drills quicker. We are practicing harder and faster each day at practice and, I think that really helped us tonight.
"If you start fast at practice, you'll start fast on gameday."
A turning point in Thursday's game was a goal-line stand by the Laker defense at the two-yard line as time expired in the first half to preserve a 21-0 lead at the half.
"We had a couple mishaps in the second half, but the defense did a great job," said Start. "That goal-line stand right before halftime was huge. That made it 21-0 at the break instead of 21-7 and the guys had a lot of energy at halftime because of that.
"As well as our offense played, I thought our defense was right there, too. They set the tempo with their effort and that carried over throughout the game."
Jaden Myers led the Laker defense with seven tackles, while Frederick added six tackles and Gavin Alban also recorded six solo stops and an interception.
FRUITPORT FALLS TO 0-2
For the Trojans, a sluggish first half put the team behind the 8-ball before they could really even gather any positive momentum.
The lone bright spot for the team was a three-touchdown performance from junior wideout Ethan Flores.
The speedster finished with 163 yards receiving and two touchdowns on four catches and added a 12-yard touchdown run to get the Trojans on the board late in the third quarter.
Senior quarterback Jakob Carlisle finished 10-for-27 passing for 227 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Carlisle also led the team in rushing with 48 yards on eight carries, while Crue Cooper added 40 yards on 16 carries.
Zech Richardson led the Trojans defense with eight tackles, while Flores added seven.
"We struggled to get momentum all night," said Fruitport head coach Nate Smith. "We had penalties and missed assignments all over the place. We just have guys that are continuing to learn a new system. That's not an excuse though. We did not play very well in the first half and came out in the second half and tried to play catch-up.
"Hats off to Spring Lake, that is a good team, and they have done a great job turning things around over there."
Despite falling behind 35-0 in the third quarter, the Trojans continued to fight and scored 20 points in the fourth quarter.
"I loved it," Smith added. "At halftime, I told the guys this is going to be a game they remember. It's either going to be the one that ended the streak or the one they came back and won. I said, ‘If you don't believe in what we can do, then stay in the locker room.' I saw it in their eyes that they believed and were ready to fight.
"From that standpoint, I'm really, really proud. That is something we can build on, but I'm very disappointed in the way we played tonight."
Spring Lake will host Sparta (2-0) on Sept. 7, while Fruitport will travel to Jenison (1-1).
"2-0 is a good start," said Start. "The last two seasons, we've only won two games combined, so the kids are excited and the coaches are excited, too. We know we have a tough road ahead of us in the O-K Blue Conference, so every non-conference win is important. The league is a going to be a challenge for us, but we feel like we are ready for it. We are better prepared this season and we'll see what happens."
Freshmen: Spring Lake defeated Fruitport, 29-8.