By John Jarvi
Local Sports Journal
SPRING LAKE – The Spring Lake Lakers positioned themselves for a first round playoff football victory Friday night, only to have it slip away in the final minutes of the game.
Belding’s running back Neil McCully scored a touchdown on a nine-yard run with about three minutes remaining, then the visitors added a two-point conversion to pull out a 21-20 victory.
It was the eighth time Spring Lake has lost a first-round playoff games since 2002.
Belding started its winning drive after taking a punt on its 13-yard-line with 5:24 left and then moved 87 yards for the touchdown in only six plays.
McCully paced the drive with a 50 yard run before scoring the final touchdown, which left Belding behind down by one point. The visitors then gambled by going for the two-point conversion and it paid off.
Quarterback Kole Hart scrambled to the right end and completed a pass to running back Nick Price for the winning points.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place,” said Spring Lake coach Jerry Rabideau. “We executed pretty well. We executed against a very strong, physical football squad. We just came out with a lower score, and it hurts.”
The Lakers, who finished the season 8-2, lost a possible touchdown in the third quarter. Spring Lake stopped McCully on a first-down run at the Laker 36. The ball popped loose, Spring Lake’s Nate Batts picked it up and headed for the end zone, but officials ruled his knees had hit the turf in the process of picking up the ball.
Instead of an apparent touchdown, the Lakers had the ball back, started a drive, but finally had to punt it away.
Rabideau said the decision on the fumble was a “blown call.”
“It’s the greatest group of seniors I’ve had,” the coach said of his team. “It (this loss) is like losing a member of your family.”
Quarterback Mark Williamson and running back Jake Frederick sparked the Spring Lake offense.
Williamson scored Spring Lake’s first two touchdowns on runs of nine yards in the first quarter and 41 yards in the second, giving the hosts a 14-13 halftime lead.
Williamson passed to Charlie Warber for a scoring play covering 57 yards early in the third quarter. A missed extra point kick after the touchdown left the Lakers with a 20-13 edge.
Williamson rushed 15 times for 73 yards and Frederick had 19 carries for 101 yards. Frederick also had 11 tackles on defense to lead Spring Lake in that category.
“Frederick played an awesome game offensively and defensively,” Rabideau said. “I’m proud of our seniors.”
Belding, now 7-3, used McCully effectively on kickoffs and in its wing-T offense. After Williamson’s first touchdown, McCully broke free with the ball and went 97 yards for a touchdown. He added his team’s second touchdown in the second quarter on a five-yard run, but a missed extra point gave Spring Lake its halftime edge.
The Redskins rushed for 340 yards in 48 attempts with McCully pounding away for 250 yards on 27 carries.
Belding goes on to the District 4 championship game against Comstock Park, which advanced by beating Fremont on Friday.