Nate Thompson

HOLLAND – Spring Lake’s varsity football team had a golden opportunity to take control of its playoff fate Friday evening.

But that chance was blown away in the stiff wind and rain at Holland Christian High School, and now the Lakers must play a nervous waiting game.

Holland Christian senior Brady Howe took a wildcat snap, faked a handoff and jetted straight ahead through an open path to the end zone from nine yards out, breaking a 17-17 tie with the go-ahead touchdown with 2:55 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Any momentum the Lakers had on a potential game-tying drive was halted by an intentional grounding call, forcing a second-and-long. Then Spring Lake fizzled out with three-straight incomplete passes to turn the ball back over to the Maroons.

Holland Christian was able to drain the last 1:30 off the clock to preserve a 24-17 victory.

Caleb Montgomery breaks off a big run for Spring Lake, setting up the Lakers’ first TD of the game. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Lakers missed out on a chance for a playoff-clinching sixth win for the fourth week in a row after starting the season 5-0. Spring Lake closed the regular season with losses to Grand Rapids West Catholic, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Allendale and now the Maroons.

Now the Lakers have to wait and hope they are one of a handful of 5-4 teams that will sneak into the playoffs. The pairings will be announced by the Michigan High School Athletic Association on Sunday night.

“We have been looking at it, but it’s projections,” said Spring Lake coach Dan Start, of the potential matchups in the Division 4 playoff field. “At 5-4, our fate is not in our hands. We have no decisions in this. But hopefully on Monday, we’ll be preparing for somebody, and if not, we’ll turn it in.”

The fact that Spring Lake was even in contention in the fourth quarter on Friday was a moral victory in itself. Holland Christian built a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, while Spring Lake turned the ball over three times in the first quarter alone – twice on recovered onside kicks.

“Last year they did some weird onside stuff, so I knew something was possibly coming after the first one,” Start said. “We failed to adjust and that’s on me. We tried to adjust, but we just didn’t get it right. And to have the rain, it was crazy. The balls was slippery, for both of us.”

The Lakers got on the board with 1:02 left in the first half on a 31-yard field goal by Matt Bierman and trailed by a 17-3 score at the break.

But Spring Lake played like a rejuvenated team in the third quarter and quickly erased the deficit.

The Lakers got rolling with a 50-yard run by senior quarterback Caleb Montgomery, which set up his own four-yard touchdown two plays later.

Spring Lake’s No. 44 Steve Ready nearly catches Holland Christian QB Wilson Wirebaugh. Photo/Jason Goorman

After a Holland Christian fumble and recovery by the Lakers, the offense again came to life. Montgomery hit wide receiver Emmanuel Wilson with a pass in the flats, and the senior broke a tackle and was sprinted 44 yards down the sideline, tying the game at 17-17.

Spring Lake forced a turnover on downs with a key tackle for a loss on fourth down with 7:46 left to play in the fourth quarter, and got the ball at its own 44. But the Lakers’ next series consisted of an incomplete pass, a loss of three on a screen play, and a one-yard gain by Montgomery.

“We didn’t take advantage of that opportunity,” Start said. “Unfortunately that’s football. It’s a love-hate game.”

Holland Christian’s game-winning drive included a pair of tough jump-ball catches for big gains by Howe and 6-foot-4 Will VanWieren, setting up Howe’s game-winning run.

Holland Christian outgained the Lakers 413-225. Montgomery led Spring Lake’s rushing attack with 92 yards and completed 7 of 14 passes for 91 yards.

Stephan Ready and Aleck Frederick led the Lakers’ improved run defense in the second half, totaling 13 and 12 tackles, respectively.