By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
SHELBY – The Shelby Tigers entered Friday night’s district final playoff game against Maple City Glen Lake in decidedly uncharted territory.
The previous week, the Tigers won their second playoff game in school history – a 42-21 victory over Kalkaska – the school’s first postseason win since 2001. So no one really knew how the Tigers would react to all the pressure surrounding such a high-profile game.
Consider that question answered.
Featuring a dominating defensive performance, and an explosive offensive display, the Tigers cruised to the 26-0 victory over the Lakers, who came into the contest with 9-1 record.
“Look in the stands,” said Shelby head coach Lorenzo Rodriguez, when asked what is the team’s secret to its success this season. “The amount of pieces of the puzzle that have to fall together to make this happen … You got to have the community support, it’s got to be positive, the parents have to be on the same page, your kids, your staff, you got to have a great game plan. You just have to take your hat off to those (programs) that have done it more than once. I’d give anything just to get it once.”
Considering the way the Tigers played Friday, that is a very real possibility.
After both teams took awhile to gain their feet, the Tigers got on the board on their third series, an eight-play drive covering 65 yards, and capped by a 33-yard TD strike from senior quarterback Spencer Peters to junior tight end Brody Lee on the first play of the second quarter.
Then the Tiger defense got into the act, as senior linebacker Austin Porter picked up a fumble by Laker quarterback Carter Lee, returning it 40yards to make it 12-0.
Shelby added another score before the half, a 10-play drive in which the running game set up Peters’ 2-yard TD pass to senior Nathan Lentz.
“(Glen Lake) had had a good scheme defensively,” said Rodriguez. “They were stopping our jet sweep. But once we got them to flow hard against the jet sweep, then we went weak side with our belly series and they couldn’t stop it. We ran it 10 times in a row and just kept ripping yards off.”
Leading 19-0 at the break, the second half was time for the Shelby defense to take over the contest. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Lakers put together their best drive of the game, a 12-play drive that wormed its way down to the Tiger 15. But on third-and-4, Lee fumbled the ball into the waiting arms of Shelby’s Kyle McGrew, giving the hosts possession at their own 14.
From there, Lentz provided plenty of drive-extending hard runs that kept the clock moving.
“That kid, when he’s on a mission, he is tough to stop,” said Rodriguez of Lentz. “He has a jump cut like nobody’s business. We have a lot of good running backs coming back next year, but we don’t have another Nathan Lentz coming back.”
Lentz, of course, wasn’t about to take all the credit.
“We came out tonight pretty confident,” said Lentz. “We practiced hard all week and everybody gave everything they had. We were all pretty committed to this win.”
Peters connected once again with Lee for the game’s final score, a beautiful 19-yard pass that made it 26-0.
Now the Tigers must hit the road, making the nine-hour trip to Negaunee to take on the Miners for the regional title. Despite the excitement of playing that game, Rodriguez insists the squad had but one goal.
“The trophy we want is sitting down there in Detroit,” he said with a smile.
Junior back Devin Mussell agreed.
“We will enjoy this,” he said, “and then, next week, we will get back to work.”
Lentz led all rushers with 110 yards on 14 carries, while Mussell added 27 yards on nine carries. Peters finished 5-for-9 passing for 57 yards and two scores, with Lee hauling in three catches for 57 yards.
Glen Lake’s Lee was 10-for- 27 passing for 139 yards and three interceptions, while the Lakers’ leading rusher was Thomas Waning, who had 35 yards on seven carries.
Defensively, Shelby junior Mason Courtright finished with 12 tackles, with teammate McGrew totaling nine stops, and Peters and Ben Schroeder adding seven tackles apiece.
Additionally, Shane Kajtazi, Lentz and Courtright all had interceptions, giving the team 17 for the season, just one shy of the school record.