In the late 1960s and into the 70s, one of the best defenses in football was a group that played for the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL and was known as the Purple People Eaters.
With the way the 2013 Lakeview football team is playing this year, they are deserving of a nickname themselves. And since the Spartan defense has been so dominant and their uniform color fits the moniker, it’s time we recognize them as the New Purple People Eaters.
The New Purple People Eaters are defined by a defense that has swallowed up opposing teams whole and stomped on their will to score.
Lakeview has not allowed a point yet this season. That is four games. Four shutouts.
With Lakeview being unscored upon so far, this Spartan team is in the midst of a historic season.
“Our kids have enjoyed this run. It’s kind of silly to think about going 16 quarters without giving up a point,” Lakeview coach Matt Miller said. “We’ve only given up 20 first down on the season. We are making such big plays, it’s hard for teams to move the chains against us.”
No Lakeview team has started the season with such a dominant defense. Former Spartan teams that have come close include the 1969 squad that had three shutouts in the first four games and gave up a total of 14 points. Even the Lakeview state finalist team from 1983 gave up 37 points in the first four games.
The four shutouts put this squad on a different level, however, statistically.
“We are proud of it. We want to keep it going as long as we can. But we know somebody is going to score on us eventually. When that happens, we’ll just focus on the ultimate goal and that’s to win the game,” said Lakeview junior linebacker Matt Barrett.
The trend for Lakeview started in the second half of last season as the current group of seniors began to hit their stride as starters. The Spartans ended the regular season last year with five straight wins, including two shutouts and a combined 41 points given up for an average of just over eight a game.
This year, those Lakeview defenders have enjoyed making sure the scoreboard hasn’t moved on the visitor’s side.
“It’s been a buzz around the locker room a bit. We’ve talked about not giving up a point this year yet, we even have a little chant about it we say after the game,” said Lakeview senior linebacker Donnie Ernsberger. “There’s some pressure to that, but we want to keep it that way because it’s a great thing that’s going on, and we’d like to keep it going.
“We figure if we all do our jobs right, there’s going to be nothing on the scoreboard for the other team on Friday night.”
What Lakeview is doing is not only setting a new standard for Spartan football, but it compares to the best defenses the city has seen.
Since 1950, only two other city teams have started the season without giving up a point through the first four games — the 1982 Pennfield team and the 1968 Springfield squad.
The closest another team came to shutouts across the board through the first four games was the 1987 Pennfield team that gave up three points. At Battle Creek Central, each of the teams from 1952, 1966 and 1968 gave up only six points in the first four games. A 1976 St. Philip team gave up six points in the first four games and the 1985 Harper Creek squad gave up 13 points in the first four games.
Big-time defensive efforts have become a trend this season as well. Beyond Lakeview’s shutout streak to start the year, the current Pennfield team has only allowed 13 points, including two shutouts. And playing 8-man football, St. Philip has given up just 15 points, including two shutouts.
Miller attributes the dominant start by his team to several things — including factors beyond the defensive side of the ball.
“We have good team speed on defense and we tackle really well. But it’s really all three parts of the game,” Miller said. “The offense isn’t making mistakes, our special teams with (kicker) Jake Herbers is kicking it into the end zone, so we have really long fields to defend. And after that, we make it really hard for teams to go 80 yards on us to score.”
Lakeview’s defense is set in a 4-4 alignment, that features a strong inside linebacker group to stop the run and a flexible outside linebacker duo that can play equally well against diverse offenses.
Ernsberger and Barrett, at inside linebacker, lead the team in tackles with 33 and 27, respectively. Ernsberger has eight tackles for loss already, including two fumble recoveries. Barrett has come up with two defensive scores, recovering two fumbles that eventually ended up in the end zone.
“Donnie is one of the best high school players around. I don’t see anybody out there playing any better or any harder than Donnie. And Barrett has a great nose for the ball. It’s just so hard for other teams to run against those guys right now,” Miller said.
Lakeview will play its outside linebackers Devin Sherlock and Karman Munder close to the line of scrimmage against running teams, but they also have enough speed to play in space against spread offenses.
On the defensive line, Lakeview uses speed on the interior with undersized, but quick tackles J.D. Jean-Jules and Jacob Harvey. The Spartans control the edges with defensive ends C.J. Gordon on one side and Justice Price and Jake Love sharing the other side.
On the back side, Lakeview has controlled the passing game with the quality play of Dontrel Childress and Alex Schwartz at corner and Hunter Bost at safety.
As a group, Lakeview’s defense has allowed only a total of 69 yards per game.
Those numbers, and the scoreless streak, become even more impressive when you realize Lakeview has been involved in several one-sided games so far with backup players on the field much of the second half often times.
“Overall, we have a great group of seniors that had a lot of playing time last year when we started figuring things out. They have a drive to be successful and that is really showing on the field,” Miller said. “And it’s the entire group. We have been involved in some running-clock games. We have people coming into games in the second half and they have done a good job.
“Sometimes you can give up a shutout in that situation, but expectations are high on this team and those guys know what they are supposed to be doing and they are getting the job done also.”
So how long can the Purple People Eaters keep gobbling up shutouts? Well, the longer Lakeview keeps this string going, the closer they will get to being the best defense in school history. The least amount of points Lakeview has given up since 1950 was 65 in the 1985 season, which included four shutouts.
They could have their work cut out for them to match the best effort in the city as the undefeated 1965 Battle Creek Central team gave up just 21 points. The 1983 Pennfield team came close with just 28 points allowed.
Looking at the season so far, you have to say Lakeview’s defense has had a favorable schedule while putting up these record numbers. The first four programs the Spartans have faced this year have a combined record of 3-13.
“With the offenses we have seen, we have matched up with them really well,” Miller said. “I feel like the meat of our schedule is coming up, so we will see how we do going forward. But we feel like we have a good defense and an offense that doesn’t make mistakes and we have a goal every game of getting shutouts. We feel like we can still attain that goal each time we go out on the field.
“But we know scores are going to come against us. But it’s fun now and while the scoreless streak keeps going the kids have had something to hang their hats on.”