If you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ.
For three years, Harper Creek was the champ of the division. But Lakeview beat Harper Creek on Friday and now the Spartans can call themselves champions.
Lakeview defeated Harper Creek, 33-14, in this Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division football contest on Friday at Spartan Stadium.
Lakeview improves to 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the SMAC East, clinching a share of the title with a one game lead with one game left to play and gets its first win over Harper Creek since 2008.
“We’re champs. It’s all about team. All these guys together played together tonight and got it done together tonight and now we’re champs. It’s a great feeling,” said Lakeview senior Mike Campbell. “We just beat Harper Creek, that means everything and now we’re champs. It’s a pretty sweet night.”
Harper Creek had entered the game also undefeated in division play, but falls to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the SMAC East.
The Beavers had won three straight titles and was going for a fourth straight for the first time in school history for the football program. With the win, Lakeview clinches its first league title since 2003.
“It’s one of the biggest wins we’ve had here in awhile,” Lakeview coach Matt Miller said. “Harper Creek has won three titles in a row and is a great program. But we told our kids this week, that this was our time. No disrespect to them, but it was time for us to start winning championships and we started tonight.”
Lakeview held a slim lead at halftime at 21-14 and neither team scored in the third quarter, so this game could have gone either way going into the final period. The Spartans were able to stretch the lead with 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to put it away and start the league championship celebration.
“They are deserving to be champions, they are very good football team,” Harper Creek coach Ed Greenman said. “I thought we played with them, but turnovers killed us and their punting killed us and they won the field position battle and that hurt.”
Lakeview’s defense forced Harper Creek into four interceptions and one key turnover on downs after a fumbled snap on a punt attempt.
“In a championship- level game, it usually comes down to turnovers and field position and they won both of those battles,” Greenman said.
Lakeview opened the scoring with Mike Campbell breaking free for a 72-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 with 7:32 left in the first quarter. The score allowed Campbell to tie the record for touchdowns in a single season at Lakeview.
But Harper Creek was able to match that early score with a long touchdown also as Trevor Johnson found Brody Taylor for a 57-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-7 with 11:46 left in the second quarter.
On the next possession, Lakeview took back the lead on a quarterback keeper by Skyler Nichols from five yards out to make it 14-7 with 8:30 left.
But the scoring kept coming as Harper Creek scored on the next snap from scrimmage as Johnson broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run to make it 14-14.
Late in the second quarter, Harper Creek fumbled the snap on a punt attempt and gave Lakeview the ball on the five. One play later, Nichols scored on another quarterback keeper from five yards out to make it 21-14 going into halftime.
After neither team could score in the third quarter, Lakeview put the pressure on as Nichols scored his third touchdown of the game on a 25-yard touchdown run to make it 28-14 with 8:04 left in the game.
Campbell finished the game with 163 yards rushing on 24 carries with Donnie Ernsberger getting 98 yards on 18 carries. With Harper Creek trying to stop the Lakeview running backs, the Spartan quarterback also found some room to run with Nichols rushing for 140 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns.
“They were trying to take me and Donnie away, but we were planning on that all week and our quarterback stepped up,” Campbell said. “He scored three touchdowns, he won the game.”
With Harper Creek forced to throw the ball to get back in the game late, Lakeview’s defense also stepped up. The Spartans’ Alex Schwartz and Hunter Bost came up with key interceptions and Devin Sherlock had two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Johnson led Harper Creek with 101 yards rushing while also throwing for 184 yards. Taylor had four catches for 137 yards.
The Beavers were led on defense with Brandon Hutson and Brennan Leson getting 11 tackles each with Caleb Masten and Chet Monaweck each adding eight stops.
Lakeview put the game away for good with Jake Herbers kicking a 36-yard field goal to make it 31-14 with 2:05 remaining. The Spartans scored on a late safety after a mishandled snap from center for the final 33-14 score.
Ernsberg and Dontrel Childress had six tackles each to lead the Spartans.
Lakeview has a chance to finish the regular season undefeated with a win next week at Sturgis.
“So proud of our seniors and their effort. They made it a mission to catch up with Harper Creek and we did,” Miller said. “Harper Creek is such a classy program and we tip our hat to Coach Greenman and their staff. It’s so nice to be able to get up to their level.”