Sep. 18—FRUITPORT — For two teams playing good football, Friday's Bayou Battle was a game worthy of the occasion.
In a role reversal from Spring Lake's first two games, it was the Lakers' defense that provided the finishing touch, stopping Fruitport on a late fourth down to preserve a 35-32 victory. The Trojans put forth a strong effort after halftime, but it was fine margins that kept the paddle in Laker hands for another year.
"This was one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Spring Lake senior Jackson Core said. "We knew they were going to give us their best, and they definitely did."
Friday's contest was the most intense game of the season to date for both teams — full of the usual hard hitting and energy that accompanies the rivalry. That turned into a slight problem for the Trojans, who found themselves on the end of a handful of personal-foul calls for unnecessary roughness.
"It's always so tough in a rivalry game like this one," Fruitport coach Nate Smith said. "We needed to stay focused and play our game."
It hurt them most on Spring Lake's final offensive drive. The Trojans had trimmed a 14-point halftime deficit to just a field goal, but a face mask call on Fruitport and good running from Christian Folkert moved the ball inside the Trojan 5-yard line.
Fruitport ended up making a big stop on fourth down, but faced 98 yards and four minutes to take the lead. After converting a fourth down from their own 5-yard line, a fourth-and-4 pass from Gavin Reames was overthrown with 1:37 to play. A Folkert first down later, Spring Lake could kneel the clock out to secure a 4-0 start.
Laker senior Carter Sabo scored what became the game-winning touchdown midway through the third quarter, snagging a 19-yard touchdown from Jackson Core through contact to put Spring Lake up 35-17.
"This is so crazy to be a part of this team," Sabo said. "I'm happy I got the opportunity to make a play for my team and help us get the W."
From there, the Trojans showed the kind of quality that makes their 1-3 record misleading. Touchdowns from Cody Nash in the third quarter and Camden Farrell in the fourth, with some improved defense thrown in, meant Fruitport was within a couple plays of staging an impressive comeback.
In the end, Spring Lake's experience shined through, even if they were tested on Friday in ways they hadn't been through two comfortable wins.
"They came out and really pushed us, and we had to respond," Spring Lake coach Dan Start said. "We need to be in those types of situations, because we hadn't been so far this year."
That type of test had a big reward — a fourth straight victory over the local rivals.
"It's amazing," Laker senior Hunter Throop said. "They really battled, and it was an intense game, but we're really happy to still have that paddle."
The first half had the makings of a major shootout, with plenty of chunk plays swinging the early momentum. Both teams scored on their opening possession — Reames found Farrell for a 70-yard touchdown to open the scoring, and the Lakers needed just four plays to respond, capped by a 4-yard Folkert run.
Spring Lake's next possession gave them a lead they held for the rest of the night. After stopping Fruitport on a fourth down, Folkert took the next play for 52 yards into the Trojan red zone. Andrew von Wahlde capped that drive with a 4-yard touchdown of his own.
The rest of the night, it was Core and the Spring Lake passing game that proved the stiffest test for a revamped Trojan defense. A screen to von Wahlde and some good cuts in the open field yielded a 62-yard completion, and on fourth-and-goal, Core lofted a pass to Ty French. The senior is known more for his linebacking abilities, but he made his second catch of the season for a 13-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
"It was a great ball by Jackson," French said. "He was good, and we needed him to step up with our running game being as great as it's usually been."
Core ended the night as the more efficient of the two senior quarterbacks, finishing 10-of-13 for 203 yards and two TDs, while Reames was 16-of-31 with 291 yards and a pair of scores caught by Farrell.
"We're a great team with all kinds of potential," Smith said. "It really hurts for our seniors, because they've been really special so far."
Folkert added another touchdown on the Lakers' next possession, where Core found Derrick Paggeot for gains of 19 and 25 before Folkert scored a second time from 5 yards out.
There was time for the Trojans to add points in the final minute, a 27-yard catch from Nash Cooper setting up Paschal Jolman's 3-yard touchdown run and sending the Trojans into halftime down 28-14.
Folkert did most of his damage before halftime, carrying 16 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow Spring Lake senior Brodie Lightfoot added 56 yards on six carries, while Paschal Jolman had 78 yards on 11 carries plus the touchdown before half.
The Trojans face a trip to Grand Rapids West Catholic next week. Spring Lake's 4-0 start heads to Hamilton next Friday.
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