Vandercook looks for fifth straight win while Grass Lake hopes to avoid third loss
By Mike Moore
It had been more than a dozen years of frustration, fall after fall of head scratching when it came to games — and losses — to Grass Lake.
Then, in 2014, that all changed for the Vandercook Lake football team in a 35-22 Week 7 victory to improve to 5-2 and all but lock up the program its first playoff berth since 1996.
Instead, the Jayhawks went on to fall to Napoleon and Homer in the final two weeks, and once again were on the outside of the playoff looking in.
Well, less than a year later, the two area rivals meet again, with just as much on the line for both.
“In a way, you have to throw the records and the scores and how everyone matches up away,” VCL coach Steve Wolvin said. “We have to focus on nothing else but Grass Lake. We expect them to be very ready to face us. We expect a great game.”
“We understand the numbers (and what’s at steak),” Grass Lake coach Randy Cole said. “All you can do is prepare for the game in front of you. If we worry too much about the records, you get in trouble. We’re going to prepare the same as if we were 4-0.”
But that’s where things get tricky.
Grass Lake, a program that hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2004, is 2-2 right now, having the limited luxury of just one more loss before being eliminated.
As for Vandercook, well, it’s a four-win team again heading into the match up with Grass Lake.
The Jayhawks are 4-0 for the first time since the 1996 team started 6-0.
VCL faithful know that was the last team to make the postseason.
“And the more I watch this team, and how physical it is, the more I think it reminds me of the (1996 squad),” Wolvin said.
In its 46-14 victory against Hanover-Horton, Vandercook showed what it’s been able to do all season, find the end zone and frustrate opposing offenses.
Through the first four weeks, the guys in red and white are averaging nearly 40 points per game while giving up just 8.6.
“The defense has played so much better than it has in the past,” Wolvin said. “We’re more interested in stopping people this year. The guys have taken a more serious focus on that side of the ball.”
That will be challenged against a Grass Lake team that’s waiting to break out of an offensive funk so far.
Aside from a 55-6 victory against a shorthanded East Jackson team, Grass Lake hasn’t scored more than 13 points in a single game.
“We have to produce on offense,” Cole said simply.
The defense will be just as essential, though, considering Cole isn’t likely to seek a shootout with Vandercook.
“We can’t give up the big play,” he said. “Really, we have to get some three-and-outs. We haven’t seen them punt in three weeks. That’s key. We have to do what we can to take away their base plays. If they go to Plan B and are able to beat us, then the better team will win.”
Wolvin, who understands what a fifth win in five weeks would mean, nearly guaranteeing a playoff berth, said last year’s win won’t effect either team too much.
Aside from the confidence factor.
“It won’t mean much, but if there’s one thing, it’s the confidence some of our guys will have in knowing we’ve beaten them,” he added. “Some of these guys were on the team that was able to break through. That may help, maybe a little.”
Mike Moore and Larry Jacobson will have the call for Friday night’s game at Grass Lake. The game will air this weekend on JTV and JTV.tv.