By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

WHITEHALL – The Whitehall and Spring Lake football teams both have explosive offenses, so their playoff encounter promised to be a high-scoring affair.

As it turned out, Whitehall’s defense stole the show in a 21-0 victory over Spring Lake in a Division 4 pre-district playoff contest Friday night.Shoreline football instory art

After watching their team grab a 7-0 lead, the Viking defenders went into lockdown mode, stopping the Lakers every time they crossed the 50 -yard line.

Spring Lake drove to the Whitehall 26- and 14-yard line in the second quarter, only to be stopped on downs the first time, and by a goal line interception on the second try.

The Lakers drove to the Whitehall 24 in the third quarter, and the seven in the fourth, but again came away frustrated.

Whitehall Zarren Aylor jumps over Spring Lake's Nate Batts. Photo/Jason Goorman

Whitehall Zarren Aylor jumps over Spring Lake’s Nate Batts. Photo/Jason Goorman

The home team’s stingy defense allowed the offense to make enough big plays to secure the playoff victory on a cold, windy Halloween night.

Whitehall, now 8-2, advances to play Comstock Park next weekend in a district final matchup.

“Credit our defensive coordinator and the kids for playing their tails off,” said Whitehall Coach Tony Sigmon, whose team rebounded from a 2-9 season in 2013 to make a playoff run this year. ‘I think that was the best defense we’ve played, especially when you look at the type of players Spring Lake has on offense.”

Whitehall senior linebacker Gunner Lamb said he wasn’t surprised by the defensive excellence, and said he thinks his team can go far in the playoffs.

“We just kept doing what the coaches told us to do – tackle low and watch the counters,” Lamb said. “We just fought through and kept on fighting.”

The playoff loss continued a long period of postseason frustration for Spring Lake, which has made the playoffs 11 times since 2000, but has lost on each occasion.

“Schematically I just think Whitehall was prepared,” said Spring Lake Coach Jerry Rabideau, whose team finished with a 6-4 record. “We’re still a very good ball club. We’ve just got to change the culture here at Spring Lake in the playoffs. We haven’t been able to win in the first round.”

Whitehall's Cheston Manns prepares to tackle Mark Williamson on the Spring Lake rush. Photo/Jason Goorman

Whitehall’s Cheston Manns prepares to tackle Mark Williamson on the Spring Lake rush. Photo/Jason Goorman

The offense did most of the important work for Whitehall in the first half, grinding out long drives, controlling the ball and keeping Spring Lake’s offense off the field.

The Vikings took the opening kickoff and drove from their own 14-yard line to the Spring Lake 19 before stalling on downs.

But they cashed in on their next possession, driving 64 yards on 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the first quarter. Quarterback Zarren Aylor finished the effort with a 10-yard touchdown run, and Windsor Marecek added the extra point.

Running back Trip Thommen was the workhorse for Whitehall in the first half, grinding out 96 yards on 18 carries to keep his team moving down the field.

Thommen, a senior who had more than 1,100 rushing yards in the regular season, finished with a game-high 107 yards.

The Vikings outgained the Lakers 147-63 in total offense in the first half, and had a 10-2 edge in first downs.

Spring Lake threatened to tie the game midway through the second quarter, when Nate Batts returned a punt 20 yards to give his team the ball at midfield.

Spring drove to the Whitehall 14, before quarterback Mark Williamson lofted a pass that was picked off by Whitehall’s Connor Rake at the goal line, preserving his team’s 7-0 halftime lead.

The Vikings got a big break on the first play from scrimmage in the second half when they recovered a fumble at the Spring Lake 28.

Zarren Aylor scored six plays later on a three-yard carry, and the Marecek extra point was good, giving Whitehall a 14-0 lead.

The key events came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Batts returned a Whitehall punt from his own 22 to the Viking 27, and the Lakers managed to drive to the seven.

But a Williamson pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-goal, ending the Lakers’ best chance of the night.

Spring Lake got the ball back and drove to the 50, but another incomplete fourth down pass gave Whitehall the ball back.

The Vikings cashed in on the very next play with a 50-yard scoring pass from Zarren Aylor to his brother Keenan Aylor with 7:42 remaining, sealing up the victory.

Zarren Aylor finished with 68 yards rushing on 20 carries and 59 yards passing.

Spring Lake fullback Jakob Frederick had big night, rushing for 99 yards on 18 carries. Batts had punt returns of 45, 20 and 47 yards to give his team good field position for much of the game.