By Steve Gunn

FRUITPORT – This year the “Battle of the Bayou” is a non-conference game.

But nothing else has changed in the heated rivalry between the Spring Lake and Fruitport football teams.LSJ Logo incert

Like every year, both teams are eager to capture the neighborhood bragging rights. And just as importantly, both teams could use an early win after disappointing defeats in Week 1.Sport Clips 2016 football ad

This year’s game will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at Fruitport.

A year ago, the Lakers and Trojans were both members of the Lakes 8 Conference, so the rivalry game had implications in the league standings. But Spring Lake departed for the O-K Blue this season, while Fruitport has joined the O-K Black.

But nobody will really care about that, according to Fruitport Coach Greg Vargas.

“I think, regardless of league or non-league, it is what it is – a good community rivalry game,” Vargas said. “There are a lot of emotions involved. We’re looking forward to it.”

New Spring Lake Coach Dan Start already appreciates the importance of the game, even though he’s yet to experience it.

“Everybody’s been bringing me up to speed on the Fruitport thing,” Start said. “It’s obviously a fun rivalry. The guys are itching to go. They’re excited. It’s going to be a great game.”

Recent history is on Fruitport’s side. The Trojans won the last two games, 22-12 and 22-6, as well as three of the last four in the series and six out of the last 10.

But Vargas said history means nothing when the Trojans and Lakers square off.

“It’s kind of a throw-out-the-records kind of deal,” Vargas said. “I had an opportunity to watch (Spring Lake) scrimmage, and we know they are going to bring it. They have some really nice players and they are going to get after it. They are not coming over here to roll over. They are coming to defend their community pride.

“We want to make sure our kids understand that the Spring Lake players feel a particular way about Fruitport players. Plus they lost a tough game last week and they’re looking for a little redemption. Both teams have some things to prove. What better way to play that out?”

Neither team started the season as planned last weekend.

The Lakers had what looked like a certain victory snatched away at the last minute. They led Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 27-0, then collapsed down the stretch and ended up losing a heartbreaker, 28-27.

Despite the shocking loss, Start said his players gained a lot of perspective, and felt a lot better, after watching the game film.

“They saw they could have won this game very easily,” Start said. “Outside of the fourth quarter we handled things pretty well. They actually got a spark of confidence after watching the film. They can’t believe they lost this game.”

The Lakers were hurt by four turnovers – two fumbles and two interceptions. They also encountered exhaustion in the fourth quarter, when the game slipped away, mostly because they only have 20 players on the roster.

“We need to work on securing the football and pass coverage,” Start said. “We ran the football well, the offensive line played well, and the defense played lights out for the first half.

“Conditioning is something we’ve put a big focus on. We only have 20 guys on the roster so it’s tough. We’re trying to get the kids in better shape. It will get better as the year goes on.”

The Lakers were led in Week 1 by Cameron Ball, who rushed for 95 yards on 11 carries, and Isaiah Pierce, who had 84 yards on 10 carries.

Fruitport came up short in its opener on Saturday at Grand Valley State University, falling 36-13 to Coopersville. The Trojans led 7-0 but gave up 22 straight points before the end of the first half.

Fruit1port was hurt by two turnovers on special teams, and both miscues led to points.

“We did a lot of things well,” Koziak said. “We were really excited about the offensive line, which was able to keep moving the ball. We also had some mental errors that played a part in the undesirable outcome.

“At halftime Coopersville had negative two yards rushing, and we led in first downs, but we were down by two scores. Those (turnovers) led to the two scores.

“We talked about the roller coaster you sometimes go through, and staying away from the lows when things don’t go our way. We told them, with a game like Spring Lake coming up, if you can’t find the energy to get pumped up, you should probably be playing something else.

“Even with the short week, practice has been spirited and there’s been a lot of energy.”

Running back Levi Six led the Trojans last week with 128 yards on 26 carries while quarterback Connor Routt was 11-for-18 passing for 60 yards.