It has been 6,203 days since Niles played a playoff football game which took place on November 7, 2003 as the Vikings looked for their first district championship against Lakeshore inside Al Stockman Stadium. The Vikings entered tonight’s game against rival Lakeshore on a two game losing streak, both shutouts at Buchanan and Dowagiac. Although Niles scored their first offensive touchdown in three weeks, their stay in the playoffs ends inside the same stadium as its last after the Lancers sailed to a 44-6 victory.
The Vikings shipped off to the BCS Conference for one season, as they will move to the Wolverine Conference next year, and may have thought that Lakeshore was in their rearview mirror. As fate would have it, Niles traveled to Lakeshore with a young team seeking their first ever win in Stevensville, but the senior heavy Lancer defense took control early and often by holding the Vikings to 33 offensive yards on 41 plays. Niles finished with four first downs and six punts for 177 yards. Alex Cole scored the lone touchdown for the Vikings, their first score since Niles’ 14-7 victory over Loy Norrix.
The Lakeshore offense likely salivated after struggling last week against #1 DeWitt as the Viking defense allowed over 300 rushing yards to Dowagiac. The Lancer attack started quickly as Aidan Jackson found the endzone less than three minutes into the game for the 7-0 lead, and Lakeshore would add another Jackson touchdown with 3:55 left in the first quarter. The Vikings stopped Lakeshore short as the Lancers looked for a 21-0 1st Quarter lead, but not for long. Riley Adams cut through the Viking defense for an 8-yard touchdown run and the 21-0 lead. Jackson scored his final touchdown with 6:02 left in the 2nd Quarter, and Lakeshore would add a safety plus a Cage Davison 18-yard touchdown run to take a 37-0 halftime lead. Brock Strebeck ended all game scoring with his 11-yard run as the 3rd Quarter closed for the final 44-6 margin. It was the largest point output for Lakeshore since scoring 48 points against Gull Lake on September 23, 2016.
Lakeshore’s offense finished with 356 yards as its rushing attack netted 244 yards and four quarterbacks combined for 112 yards passing yards. Jackson (81 yards), Andrew Lies (53 yards), Adams (26 yards), and Treyjen Keim (24 yards) led the Lancer rushing attack as 12 different players carried the ball. Logan Mooney led the Lakeshore quarterbacks with 49 yards (2 for 3), JJ Bushu added 29 yards, and Jimmy Gillette netted 27 yards. Garret Dehaven brought the Lancer crowd to its feet with his 31 yard catch, and Keim caught two passes for 29 yards. Ryan Kolessar also caught two passes for 25 yards, Trevor Griffiths finished with one catch for 15 yards, and Adams caught one pass for 12 yards.
The Lakeshore defense clamped down on the Viking offense one week after allowing #1 DeWitt to score 43 points. Although DeWitt won, there were big plays to build on for the Lancer defense. Lakeshore’s Grant Ruddell forced DeWitt’s quarterback to throw his first interception of the season last week, and the Panthers punted for the first time since the 4th quarter of their first game against Portland. Against Niles, Lakeshore constantly attacked the Vikings behind the line causing ten tackles for loss. Cage Davison led all tacklers with six (3 for loss), while Brett Vanderveen added five tackles (1 for loss), Evin Koeppe finished with four tackles (1 for loss), and five Lancers finished with three tackles each (Strebeck, Keim, Landon Thompson, Matthew Vaughn, and Tanner Jackson). JJ Bushu nearly ran back a punt for touchdown and finished with 70 punt return yards. The Lancers did not punt once tonight.
While the Vikings end their playoffs inside the same stadium as their last appearance, the Lancers welcome Coldwater (5-2) back to Al Stockman Stadium where the Cardinals played their first ever playoff game in school history in 2013. The Cardinals toppled Sturgis 40-14. Game time is set for 1PM next Saturday. On the other side of the bracket, Harper Creek advanced to play #1-seed St. Joseph next week after eliminating Parma Western 30-13.