The playoffs begin tonight at Battle Creek Central for the Sturgis football program (3-3), which needs to win its final three games to officially join the postseason party. The Trojans are 2-2 in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division. Battle Creek Central has struggled to a 1-5 overall record and an 0-4 mark in divisional play.
JoeInsider.com sat down with Sturgis coach Jimmy Lamb for two hours Wednesday evening for this week’s Q&A. Here’s a portion of our conversation:
Obviously, the fact that your guys know they have to win their final three games to make the playoffs must be weighing heavily on their minds. What has this week been like?
“It started with the seniors. I’ve heard them talking and I’ve seen it on social media about realizing how they’re at a point now where their season could be coming to a close. I was talking to them about that in August. As a 17- or 18-year-old senior, you’re looking at coach and [rolling your eyes]. Now they’re starting to realize, holy cow, their football days are coming to an end.
“But we were real loose this week. We were having fun. We’ve taken some criticism about whether or not we should throw the ball as much as we have. We’re like a 60-40 team, but people see what they want to see.
You continued to work on the passing game a lot this week, and you’ve said in recent weeks that it has been tough to find a solution for so many dropped balls and missed assignments in protection. What in particular were you trying to improve over the last few days?
“I know when we’re going empty protection, Chance [Stewart] can’t hold on to the ball [so long]. So I started blowing the whistle [after two seconds] and if he didn’t have the ball out of his hands, it’s probably a sack. He was getting really good at Wednesday’s practice of anticipating the whistle and getting the ball out of his hand 17-18 plays in a row.
“We have a hot route guy every time. He’s got to read his key and just needs to see off the snap what [the defense is] doing. We haven’t put any new routes in or anything. We’ve got some skill guys; let’s use them. We’ve been working a ton this week on catching the ball. I’ve been throwing the ball down at the goal line. ‘You guys have to make these plays happen.’ It seems like every team we play has a guy that goes up and makes that catch. We’ve got to make those plays.”
What’s the scouting report on Battle Creek Central?
“Athletically, they’re probably one of those teams, if they come to play, can just be terrifying. They do things that just bug me. They had a play against Gull Lake where the quarterback tosses the ball to the tailback, it hits the tailback in the head, and the quarterback just stands there. There’s no attempt to pick up the ball; Gull Lake has nine guys going after the ball, they pick it up and score a 28-yard touchdown.
“If we can stop their athleticism by playing fundamentally sound and not giving them big plays … [defensive coordinator Dave] Northrop talked this week about taking their will out. If we can put them in a spot where they just don’t want to play out there. At some point during the game if you can just keep pushing and pushing on them, they’re going to fold.
“Most teams that I’ve seen on film get a big play against them but then Battle Creek comes back and scores and gets some momentum. If you can just hit it again … if we can get two scores on them quickly, we can really put this thing away. We’re going to have to beat kids one-on-one when we get the opportunity.”
Who have been your special-teams stars this season?
“Early on we were, as coaches, really disappointed in our special teams and the jogging on the field. Lately, Zach Mathews and J.D. Bowdish [have been good]. Zach is on every special team. He’s a shooter on our punt team and he’s in the middle on kickoff. He hustles and goes full speed. He is just a soldier; he’ll do what he’s asked to do. He might get a look at receiver this week.
“J.D. is the same way. He’s on punt and kickoff [as a shooter]. They make some big plays for us. That’s what you want out of those guys.
“Luke Summey, he’s our [long] snapper. He hasn’t put one in a spot where Chance [Stewart] can’t get it. It has been good. Even when Luke was out [with a knee injury], Austin Smith did a nice job. That’s tough. I don’t like to concern myself with that stuff [injuries]. The next guy’s in; snap the ball. That part of special teams is the biggest part just getting the ball back. Luke has done a fantastic job of getting that ball back there, too.”