LAKEVIEW — For nearly 45 minutes, the Lakeview Wildcats were on its way to a season opening, third consecutive victory. If only, the final three minutes were different.
With Lakeview punting from its own 39-yard line, the snap sailed high and punter Brandon Bisel could not corral the ball. The Newaygo Lions recovered on the Wildcats’ 25-yard line with just 3:16 remaining in the game.
Less than two minutes later, Newaygo reached the end zone with 1:17 showing and capped the drive with an extra point to stun the Wildcats with a 21-20 victory on Friday night at Kos Field. It was the second consecutive season the Lions defeated Lakeview by just one point.
“I told them, this has to be a bump in the road,” Lakeview coach Sean Rinehart said. “All of our goals from the beginning of the season are still intact. All of the things we want to accomplish are still in front of us. It can go one of two ways, they can let this bother them the rest of the season or we can learn from it and move on.”
Still the loss stings, especially, with the Lions (3-0) scoring twice in the final 4:28. Lakeview led 14-0 at halftime and 20-8 after three quarters.
“I got after my kids. We have been together for a year and a half now,” Newaygo coach Andy Busch said. “That is some of the toughest pressure we’ve seen and the first time we’ve really been bottled up. I called some kids out.”
It worked as the Lions outscored the Wildcats 21-6 in the second half.
“I’m proud of these kids for stepping up, answering and getting it done,” Busch said. “The pressure was on them and they completely improved 100 percent in the second half.”
All three of Newaygo’s touchdowns came on runs by junior Reo Heinzman. The final one coming from seven yards out to tie the game at 20-20. After going for two-point conversions after their first two scores, the Lions attempted an extra point and were successful.
“He is a stud, a fast, tough and gritty kid,” Busch said of Heinzman. “He is going to carry the load for us, in this game and in the future.”
Heinzman finished with 87 yards rushing. He also had three- and five-yard scores.
“They execute everything they do very well,” Rinehart said. “We had some opportunities. We had a chance to get a fumble recovery and an interception. Those things add up if we don’t get them. To be a great football team, we have to bounce off those things and finish a team off.”
Rinehart said the botched snap rattled his team.
“I think it did. They saw the field position and started thinking about not having a loss yet,” Rinehart said. “They (Newaygo) made a good play (the touchdown). It’s tough to lose to the same team by one point two years in a row.”
Lakeview (2-1) opened the scoring with a six-yard run by John Zuluaga-Torres and an extra point by Caleb Ruvalcaba. Brad Hamlin caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Nate Shurlow with just 19.1 seconds left in the half (extra point was good) for a 14-0 lead.
Newaygo answered with a score on its second possession of the second half on a run and two-point conversion by Heinzman.
Four minutes later, the Wildcats scored on a 10-yard run by Garrett Cavendish. The extra point was no good for a 20-8 advantage.
Newaygo’s second score capped a 6:32 minute drive — that included a flea flicker — and made the 20-14. The Lions missed a two-point conversion.
“We started believing. We started blocking our assignments and we started believing,” Busch said. “They pulled it together and got it done.”
Newaygo hosts Reed City on Friday, while the Wildcats travel to Chippewa Hills.