By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
SPRING LAKE – Had it not been for the Spring Lake Lakers’ defense, Coach Jerry Rabideau and his team would be facing yet another heartbreaking loss to the Coopersville Broncos.
Not this time as the defensive unit held the Broncos at bay for much of the contest and celebrated a 14-12 home-opening victory at Grabinski Field.
The offense did its part, but not on a consistent basis. A 1-yard run by Cody Berkobien and a 78-yard touchdown pass from Jake Chittenden to Charlie Warber accounted for both touchdowns. And, of course, there were two extra points converted by Carter Bench that accounted for the winning margin.
“Our defensive play overall was very, very good,” Rabideau said. “And I think our offense will start clicking. We will see from this game to the next. There will be a huge advancement from Week 1 to Week 2.”
However, as the Lakers begin thinking about Week 2, a trip to Mona Shores, it may be without Berkobien, who injured his shoulder in the latter stages of Thursday’s game. Berkobien, a workhorse back, finished with 23 carries for 97 yards.
Both offenses sputtered in the early going. Spring Lake’s offensive struggles included two turnovers in the first half, one of which was turned into the Broncos’ first touchdown.
A tipped pass ended up in the hands of Coopersville’s Seth Hicks for the interception. A six-play drive ended when Dan Sherman weaved through the Laker defense and into the end zone from 7 yards out.
Spring Lake didn’t get on the board until the second half and some adjustments were made. The biggest change was the hand signal method of getting plays on the field was abandoned.
“We lost 4-6 plays on that,” Rabideau said. “We went to the huddle in the second half and all the kids were on the same page.”
There were several key plays in the drive that helped the Lakers get into the end zone with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter. First, the Lakers gained a first down by literally an inch to keep a drive alive. Then, Warber made a leaping catch over a defender on another third down play. Berkobien dashed 20 yards down to the 2.
Spring Lake had a terrible time getting into the end zone from the 2. Berkobien gained a yard, then was stopped for no gain on second down. The ball came loose on third down and the officials ruled the SL runner was down by contact. On fourth down, Berkobien lost the ball, but the ball broke the plane of the goal line before it came out.
Coopersville was able to regain the lead with 9:49 remaining in the game on a 5-yard run by senior Justin Howe.
The Lakers didn’t take long to answer. After a delay of game penalty to start the drive, Chittenden found Warber wide open on a 78-yard touchdown run. Chittenden completed 6-of-14 passes for 114 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“I was so wide open,” Warber said. “It was a great play call.”
Warber gave a head fake to the defender, who bit. Warber ran into the open and Chittenden dropped a pass into his arms.
“I lost him … he bit on the fake,” Warber said. “It was a perfect throw and there was no one in sight.”
Neither team could effectively move the ball the remainder of the game.
The final exclamation point came in the final minute when Laker punter A.J. Lisman launched a punt that dropped dead in the grass at the Bronco 2.
Six plays later, the clock ran out.
Senior Spencer Proefrock spent plenty of time in the Broncos’ backfield all night long. He finished with 3½ sacks. Chittenden had eight tackles, Berkobien and Jakob Frederick had five each.