What Sturgis lacked in ball security in the first half was made up for in intestinal fortitude. But the home magic turned into an illusion over the next two quarters with Battle Creek Lakeview pulling away for a 48-21 victory Friday night.
In all likelihood, it was the last game the Trojans seniors will ever play, though it’s still possible that at 5-4 they snag a playoff spot. That will be determined Sunday by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
“We played our hearts out,” Sturgis head coach Jimmy Lamb said. “These guys gave me everything they had tonight and that’s all I could ask for. We played a heck of a game tonight. The seniors have got to walk off the field with their heads held high because they gave me everything they had.
“… We’ve still got a shot here. We’re going to put some stuff together this weekend and we’ll see hopefully if the state puts us in a spot to play next week.”
Sturgis tried its best to take matters into its own hands.
The Southwestern Michigan Athletic Association East Division-champion Spartans (9-0) moved down the field unimpeded on their first possession of the game, traveling 71 yards and scoring from six yards out on a first-down run by Mike Campbell. After a Sturgis catch-and-fumble, Lakeview’s Donnie Ernsberger rushed 12 yards for another touchdown and a quick 14-0 lead.
Sturgis stopped what could have opened up into a full on hemorrhage with a deliberate drive that ended with one of the more difficult one-yard passes a quarterback can make. Senior Chance Stewart arched a soft throw over the defender’s shoulder into the hands of classmate Kalvyn Bowdish in the back-right corner of the end zone with 2:53 remaining in the opening quarter.
Lakeview fired right back with both barrels, as Ernsberger powerered to a 33-yard TD run at the end of the first quarter and a 17-yarder early in the second following another Trojans fumble. The Spartans had a 28-7 lead and began to resemble the team that trampled most of its previous eight opponents.
However, Stewart connected with junior receiver Jack Scheske on the next possession for a 13-yard touchdown. With nothing to lose, Lamb called an onside kick that was recovered by Sturgis. Stewart zipped a 45-yard pass to Bowdish to make it a 28-21 game, drastically flipping momentum and planting a seed of doubt firmly into the Spartans’ minds.
Lakeview punted a few minutes later and the Trojans had a big opportunity to tie the game before intermission. Starting at its own 2-yard line, Sturgis traveled all the way to the Lakeview 33 but a holding penalty derailed the drive.
“The first half was tremendous,” Lamb said of Stewart, who completed 17 of 25 passing attempts for 283 yards and three TDs in the first half. “His all-around game was tremendous. He got pressure in the second half and he still found some receivers. But in the first half he was clicking. We got some drives going; I wish we wouldn’t have put the ball on the floor twice in the first half. It’s a different ball game going into halftime.”
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Sturgis outgained the Spartans 334-270 through two quarters. Bowdish had seven receptions for 152 yards and a pair of scores and Scheske added six catches for 105 yards and a TD. Some halftime adjustments by Lakeview at the break kept the Trojans scoreless in the second half.
Stewart finished what could be his final prep game before moving on to play for Western Michigan University with 397 yards on 28-of-49 passing. Bowdish collected 202 yards on 13 catches — his first game over 200 yards — and Scheske notched 160 yards on 10 receptions. Senior Matt Phillips led the team with 35 rushing yards.
“It has been a crazy ride,” Bowdish said. “We’ve had our ups and down, but it has been one hell of a season. It has been fun. We like to come out and throw the ball; that’s what we do best. Why not do it? We’ve got a DI quarterback; why not come out and throw the ball?”
Phillips posted a team-high 7.5 tackles, followed by Scheske (five) and Tristen Stewart (five).
Lakeview’s Ernsberger churned out 256 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns — two of which sucked the life out of the Sturgis stands in the third quarter. Campbell added 104 and two scores on the ground.
Pressured from the edges, Stewart scrambled for his life while trying to make plays in the second half.
“Their defensive linemen were twisting and that’s something we kind of had a hard time picking up,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to win routes, we’ve got to throw better balls and we’ve got to block. In the second half we just weren’t doing those three games.”
Fighting back tears, Stewart praised his teammates for their effort.
“We just left it all out there,” he said. “I’ve got to give credit to everyone; they played their hearts out tonight. Every senior … they played their butts off and laid it all on the line.
“The mentality after that third fumble, I thought we easily could have switched it off. It could have been another Portage Central game. Credit the guys; they battled. People make fun of my offensive line all the time, but they’re busting their butts. That’s all you can ask for. It’s the players we have and they bust their butts 24-7. I definitely think we shocked [Lakeview] a little bit in that second quarter. We got on them.”
Now the Trojans, which have narrowly missed out on playoff berths with 5-4 records twice in Stewart’s career.
“A few things didn’t go our way,” Stewart said. “Now we’ll see what happens; we wait until Sunday. Now we’re going to be nervous for the next two days.”
Lamb embraced all the outgoing seniors, finishing with Stewart, with whom he’s spent a great deal of time over the years when Lamb served as offensive coordinator. He told the QB what a pleasure it was to coach him and thanked Stewart for a selfless attitude, a desire to improve and do what’s best for the team, which made Lamb’s first full year as head coach that much more memorable and enjoyable.
“He’s done what I’ve asked him to do this year and he’s done it with no questions asked, just like the rest of his teammates,” Lamb said. “I’m proud of him and I love him very much. Hopefully we’ve still got one more with him — at least one more.”