Playoff bound Shelby denies Spring Lake its sixth win in 14-8 victory

By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

SPRING LAKE – It was quintessential Week 9 high school football.

Host Spring Lake needed one more win to guarantee a 6-3 overall record and an automatic berth in the annual Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs. Visiting Shelby wanted a win over the Lakers to ensure the squad entered its third-straight playoff appearance with momentum and a 7-2 record.

On top of that, the field was a sloppy mess, it had rained for nearly 24 hours and the temperature at kickoff hovered near the 40-degree mark.

In the end, not the play of the Lakers or the field conditions could prevent Shelby from imposing its will, as the Tigers came away with the hard-fought 14-8 victory.

“This (win) is important because it sends us into the playoffs on a high note,” said Shelby head coach Lorenzo Rodriguez, whose squad has lost in the first round of the playoffs the past two years. “What we got here was what we expected to see: a ton of (Spring Lake) athletes who were going challenge us. And we did it in a hostile environment.”

Yet, it was the Lakers who came out for much of the opening half looking like the stronger team.

Despite missing sophomore quarterback Mark Williamson – who watched helplessly this past week as his knee filled with fluid – the Laker offense, at first, didn’t seem to miss a bit with senior wide receiver Charlie Warber taking over under center.

Operating primarily out of the option veer, Spring Lake took the opening drive 60 yards for the score, with Warber carrying the ball on five of the drive’s 10 plays. Teammate Cody Berkobien finished things off with a 10-yard TD blast that made it 6-0. Even though Chase Slagboom’s PAT attempt failed, the Lakers looked they were going to be pretty tough to beat.

“We looked pretty good until the second quarter,” Spring Lake head coach Jerry Rabideau said. “But we’re not good enough to overcome turnovers.”

Indeed, the turnovers started coming fast and furiously after that opening TD, with a fumble coming off a Shelby punt early in the second quarter. That gave the Tigers good field position, from which they would eventually score.

“Really, we ended the season the way we opened it, with turnovers,” Rabideau said. “When we’ve struggled, we’ve had issues with turnovers.”

Shelby got on the board late in the second quarter, as senior Tiger quarterback Spencer Peters, with just a flick of his wrist, connected with Devin Mussell from 37 yards to make it 6-all. Andy Fortier’s PAT made it 7-6 Shelby and that’s where it stayed through halftime.

Both teams struggled to put together drives in the third quarter, but the Lakers were poised to take the lead early in the fourth only to fumble it away. The Tigers took the ensuing drive and drove 80 yards in seven plays, capped by a 39-yard TD pass from Peters to wideout Shane Kajtazi to make it 14-6.

Then again, late in the fourth, with the Lakers looking to tie it up after driving down to the Tiger 2-yard line, the hosts fumbled it away and that sealed its fate.

The Tigers gave up the safety in the game’s waning seconds, thus providing the final 14-8 result.

Once the game was over, and the handshaking was finished, several Tiger players tackled Coach Rodriguez in what had become the nastiest part of the field, a large mud hole located on the 50 between the hash marks.

For Rodriguez, it was all clean fun.

“The field was too wrecked to use very much of our outside game,” said a muddy Rodriguez. “We had to go straight ahead tonight.”

Rabideau, on the other hand, was not looking forward to going into his locker room.

“I’m not really prepared to deal with this,” he said. “This would have been our 10th playoff appearance in 14 years, so it’s not really something we’ve had much experience doing. I can say, it really stinks to finish up a season like this.”

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