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Vandercook wins wild one 44-26 at Grass Lake, moves to within one win of playoffs

 By Mike Moore
Staff Writer

Grass Lake – Leading by just four in a game that had swung back and forth the entire first half, Steve Wolvin knew his Vandercook Lake football needed a spark.

He didn’t know said spark would ignite fireworks for the next 24 minutes of football.

“We practice it, because we know they weren’t going to kick (to our deep guys),” Wolvin said of his kick return unit, which began the second half of Friday night’s game at Grass Lake on the field and leading 18-14.

When the ball sailed roughly 25 yards, Devin Cheney was right there, scooped it up, turned around and heaved it to Zaithon Allen.

“It was amazing,” Allen said of what turned into a 70-plus yard touchdown return.

His score put the Jayhawks up 25-14, but the dagger came 40 seconds later when Koby Bushinski picked off a Kyle Farley pass and returned it 37 yards for a 31-14 lead.

Vandercook went on to win 44-26, improving to 5-0 for the first time since 1996, which also happens to be the last time the guys in red and white made the state playoffs.

“It’s a nice win because Grass Lake is so well coached, and they come to play,” Wolvin said afterwards. “I told our team how tough they are to beat here on this field. They really protect their home field. To them, this is sacred ground. We knew it was going to be a battle.”

The final score is somewhat hard to believe considering the teams traded chances, but ended the first quarter locked in a scoreless tie.

Grass Lake broke the seal 52 seconds in the second quarter when Farley hit Jeremiah Brandenburg on a 15-yard touchdown pass and a 6-0 lead.

On the ensuing possession, though, Malik Wilks came to life.

Questionable before the game do to a stomach issue, Wilks made Grass Lake’s defense sick as he hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Nolan Hancock to tie the game at 6-6.

Two minutes later, after Grass Lake failed to pick up a first down, Noah Cooper got in on the action, hauling in a 25-yard pass from Hancock for a 12-6 lead.

The Warriors answered right back, though, and Farley hooked up with Brandon Sherwood for a 43-yard touchdown, a successful 2-pt conversion and a 14-12 lead with 3:33 to play in the first half.

But as was the case all night, Vandercook had an answer for Grass Lake.

The Jayhawks took more than three minutes off the clock before Wilks eventually scored on a 3-yard run for the 18-14 lead at the break.

Then the fireworks of the second half unfolded.

“We had a disastrous start,” Grass Lake coach Randy Cole said. “We didn’t cover a kick the way we had to, and then the interception. Add those two together and you give up (13) real fast. So we had to find a way to scramble back. Every time we got it close, we’d give up another big one.”

Grass Lake did score on the ensuing possession when Farley ran in from 1 yard out.

The Warriors defense then came to life, forced and blocked a Vandercook punt, and with 5:12 to play in the third, got a 7-yard touchdown run from Farley to make it 31-26.

The backbreaker came next, though, as Grass Lake held Vandercook on first and second down, but on third and 11, Wilks ran a seem route and was left uncovered, hauling in a short pass from Hancock and eventually scoring what was a 61-yard touchdown.

Allen added a 1-yard run late in the fourth to cap the scoring.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s been a long while for Vandercook to be in this situation,” Allen said. He finished the game with 153 yards rushing on 19 carries and a score. He also hauled in three passes for 44 yards and added a sack on defense. “But we’re still trying to focus on what’s ahead of us. One game at a time.”

Hancock completed 10-of-16 passes for 248 yards and two scores. Wilks had four catches for 126 yards and two scores, while Cooper hauled in three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Wilks also chipped in 72 yards and a score on 13 carries.

Vandercook (5-0) can clinch a playoff spot next weekend against Napoleon (2-3).

The Jayhawks had the same chance in Week 8 last week against the same team before falling 27-14, eventually ending the year 5-4.

“It means a lot to these kids,” Wolvin said of the playoff chance. “Five of them have been here three years and learned form what happened last year with Napoleon. They learned the year before when we couldn’t play together. We’re focused on each game right now.”

Farley finished the game completing 18-of-32 passes for 225 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Sherwood had seven catches for 97 yards and a score. Andrew Ryan added four catches for 18 yards, while Tom Coppernoll added two for 20 yards.

Luke Coppernoll led the ground attack with 46 yards on 18 carries. His total would have been higher had a long run in the third quarter not been called back on an offensive helmet-to-helmet call that left the entire Grass Lake coaching staff puzzled, to say the least.

Farley added 44 yards on 13 carries and two scores.

Grass Lake is now 2-3, and must win out to avoid missing the playoff for the first time since 2004.

The Warriors take on Hanover-Horton (1-4) Friday.

“We have to get ready for the next one. I don’t care if you’re 5-0 or 2-3, you get ready with everything you’ve got,” Cole said. “We’re going to prepare for Hanover like we’re playing a state championship game.”

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