A holding penalty here, a missed assignment on kickoff coverage there and an incompletion on fourth down. These are the things that keep football coaches up at night. But as disappointing as Sturgis’ 35-14 homecoming loss to Harper Creek Friday night was for head coach Jimmy Lamb, he was genuinely pleased with the Trojans’ effort.
The Beavers (5-1, 4-0 SMAC East) returned the opening kickoff deep into Sturgis territory and punctuated the start of the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division contest with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Johnson to Brody Taylor. The Trojans rolled up their sleeves and completed a long drive to counter. Sturgis quarterback Chance Stewart hit Kalvyn Bowdish for 16 yards to tie the game.
After a defensive stop, Sturgis fumbled the ball and Harper Creek made the home team pay for the mistake, taking over in the red zone. The Beavers’ Anthony Nichols made his way to the end zone from 14 yards out to give the Beavers a 14-7 advantage going into the second quarter.
They tacked on a third TD just before halftime for a 21-7 lead at the break.
Again, the Trojans regrouped, coming out in the third quarter with a substantial drive that yielded a three-yard Matt Phillips scoring run to cut the deficit to seven points. The Sturgis defense did its job, forcing Harper Creek a couple punts. Seeing an opportunity to grab momentum, Lamb elected to go for it on 4th-and-3 on his own side of the field. Stewart delivered a quick strike to Bowdish over the middle that was ruled an incompletion.
At least late Friday night, before having a chance to review the film, Lamb was far from convinced the ball hit the grass.
Harper Creek scored two plays later to take full control before a lightning delay paused the action.
“I wanted them to see, ‘Hey, you know what? We’re going to win this thing,’” Lamb said about the gamble.
A Sturgis interception killed any possible comeback bid.
“It is what it is,” said Lamb, whose team fell to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the East Division. “Harper was a good team, but our guys tonight played really good. I said, ‘I believe I can look every one of you in the eye tonight and played every rep, made it count, and you played your hearts out.’ We played really good; we just have to get our offense going now.”
Lamb was also quick to point out the home support on a night of inclement weather.
“Our fan base … I definitely want to thank them,” he said. “It was packed. The student section, even when it was pouring, was loud as [heck]. It was awesome. Tremendous support. Best crowd we’ve had in three or four years.”
Harper Creek had 10 first downs and 286 yards of total offense, with 219 coming on the ground. Sturgis completed 12 first downs and compiled 230 yards (80 rushing).
The Trojans were flagged eight times for 56 yards, including two costly holding penalties on long runs. The Beavers had nine infractions for 73 yards.
Phillips rushed nine times for 40 yards and Stewart added 26 on keepers. Stewart completed 19 of 29 passing attempts for 150 yards with two picks. Bowdish caught eight of those passes for 58 yards, and Jack Scheske added four grabs for 57 yards. Oakley Stevens and Jack Caywood each hauled in three receptions for 19 and 18 yards, respectively.
Phillips also led the team with 9.5 tackles, followed by Tristen Stewart (eight) and Scheske (6.5). Adam Yunker added four stops.