It’s win or turn-your-jerseys-in time for the Sturgis football program. Well, sort of. Friday’s regular season finale against Lakeview is an opportunity for the Trojans to collect a sixth win and automatically qualify for the MHSAA playoffs, though mathematically there is still a chance the Trojans would make the field based on how the playoff points shake out.
At 5-4 in 2012, Sturgis missed out that way by two spot. With the same record in 2010, the Trojans were one position away from the postseason. Head coach Jimmy Lamb would rather not have his team’s fate come down to a calculator.
“Where we have a benefit right now that we didn’t the last two times is that we have beaten four [Class A schools],” Lamb said. “We’re going to have some points and be up there, but we don’t want to leave it up to that. I want to take care of business and not have to worry about it. There are 176 teams in right now. There has to be 256 total. There are 81 teams that are 5-3. It just depends.”
Qualifying the traditional way for Sturgis, which is 5-3 overall and 4-2 in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division play, means beating the team that already secured the division title. Battle Creek Lakeview comes to town 8-0 (6-0 SMAC East) and would like nothing more than to play spoiler en route to an undefeated record.
The Spartans, which claimed a SMAC East title and are an honorable mention in the latest Associated Press Division 2 poll, have manhandled their eight opponents up to this point by a combined score of 323-35. They didn’t surrender a point until the sixth game of the season against Marshall.
The good news for the Trojans is Harper Creek limited Lakeview to 33 points and managed to score 14 of their own last weekend. But the Beavers, which won the previous three division crowns, are a solid outfit with just two losses this season. They did, however, expose Lakeview’s primary weakness, which is a somewhat porous defensive secondary. Yes, Harper Creek threw four interceptions, but it doesn’t have a future Division I quarterback running the show like Sturgis does in senior Chance Stewart.
“We’ve put some routes in to help us against their coverages,” Lamb said. “It looks like, when it comes down to it, it’s just beating their defensive secondary. Their front six is not bad against the run game; it’s their back five … I’m skeptical as to how good they are. They gave up some yards to Harper Creek.”
Lakeview QB Skyler Nichols can make positive things happen with his feet (two rushing touchdowns vs. Harper Creek) and kicker Jake Herbers has the ability to get points for the Spartans when drives stall in the red zone.
The Trojans have to take care of the football, come up with a few takeaways and play smart but with abandon to have a chance in this one. A good showing by the home fans will also be crucial.
“Yeah, there are a couple things going in — kind of nothing-to-lose stuff,” Lamb said. “We were repping them all year long and we’ll break it out Friday night.”
“It has been really exciting,” Lamb said of days following Friday’s win at Loy Norrix. “We’ve had great practices the last three days; they’ve been short but crisp. We’ve put in what we’ve needed to put in, repped it and got out.”
The reality that this could be the final game for this year’s seniors started to set in, but Lamb said it’s a sense of urgency that could pay dividends in his program’s upset bid.
“You can feel that aura and see it around them a little bit,” he said. “You can tell they’re like, ‘This is my last Wednesday practice maybe’ or ‘It could be my last game.’ They want to make it count. They’re having fun. I really am excited to see what they’re going to be able to do. I challenged them on Monday and they’ve really responded. I challenged the O-line, and I challenged the receivers and I challenged the defensive front and the linebackers. They’ve really responded. I’m excited.”
Lamb said junior tight end Jacob Hass, who missed six games due to a concussion, should factor in more Friday after shaking off some of the rust last week at Loy Norrix.
“We got Haas back last Friday night and that was wonderful. I believe he played pretty much the entire second half. He was taking hits [Tuesday] in practice and took some hits [Wednesday] in practice. He brings an element that we didn’t have,” Lamb explained.