By Dave Hart

SPRING LAKE – It took the Spring Lake football team nearly the entire season to earn their third victory a year ago.

This season, the Lakers matched their win total in Week 3 of the 2023 season after beating three traditionally tough programs by the exact same score.

Spring Lake continued its script of defeating teams by a 34-28 margin on Friday in its O-K Blue Conference opener against Hudsonville Unity Christian.

The Lakers are now 3-0 on the season and 1-0 in league play. They will face a 2-1 Coopersville squad next Friday looking to continue their hot start.

“I am happy for our kids, ” said Spring Lake coach Cody Mallory. “I asked them to commit and change during the offseason and they bought in completely and have been working their butts off. We need to keep in mind that tomorrow doesn’t care about today. We can celebrate this one, but we have to get back to work on Sunday.”

The Lakers opened the scoring on their first drive of the game after going 69 yards on 10 plays. Bryce Collins scored on a 7-yard touchdown run with 4:53 remaining in the opening quarter to give Spring Lake a 6-0 lead.

Unity Christian responded on its next possession, taking advantage of good field position, and going 46 yards on 10 plays. Quarterback James Karel gave the Crusaders a 7-6 lead on a 1-yard run up the middle with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Lakers retook the lead on the second play of the second quarter on a 59-yard touchdown run by Wren Dephouse to give Spring Lake a 13-7 lead.

Unity Christian responded six plays later with 7:29 left in the second quarter on a f5-yard touchdown run by Isaac Stienstra.

The Lakers failed to respond on their next drive, but stopped Unity Christian on its final drive of the first half.

The Crusaders marched the ball inside the 10-yard line, but a pass interference penalty pushed them back 10 yards and they settled for a field goal attempt on the final play of the half that fell just short.

Unity Christian held a slim 14-13 lead at halftime.

The Lakers drove the ball 66 yards in 11 plays on their opening drive of the third quarter and regained their advantage on a 4-yard run by Sam Schafer. Spring Lake led 20-14 with 6:19 left in the third quarter.

The Lakers forced Unity Christian to punt on its next possession, then quarterback Reid Grimmer scored on a 36-yard run to give Spring Lake a 27-14 lead with one minute left in the third stanza.

“I stumbled on the run and was mad about it,” Grimmer said. “But I knew that I could get past the defender and that I just needed to hold on to the ball.”

The Crusaders responded with 9:59 remaining in the fourth quarter on their ninth play of the next drive. Max VanKoevering scored from 3 yards out to cut the Crusaders deficit to a 27-21 margin.

The Lakers did not panic on their next possession, moving the ball and melting down the clock.

Dephouse helped Spring Lake maintain possession by converting on a third-and-eight play with an 11-yard run at midfield.

The Lakers also had a fourth-down conversion from Dephouse that resulted in a 33-yard game-winning touchdown run to give Spring Lake a 34-21 lead with 3:13 remaining in the contest.

“I have to thank my whole team because I couldn’t have converted on those runs without them,” Dephouse said after the game. “Bryce (Collins) has been giving me perfect blocks and all I have to do is take the right gap and go as hard as I can.”

Unity Christian responded by going 56 yards on six plays and scored on an 11-yard pass from Karel to Hugo VanderWaal with 1:42 left.

The Lakers managed to recover the onside kick and get the first down needed to end the game.

Dephouse paced the Lakers with 197 rushing yards on 13 carries, while Schafer added 68 yards on 14 attempts and a touchdown. Alex Batka led the defense with seven tackles.