During its run of five straight playoff seasons, Lakeview has been a running team.
But that can be said another way. The Spartans have also been a blocking team – meaning the offensive line has taken center stage in Lakeview’s effort to run the ball in the veer-option offense.
“I have seen backs have great games and not get a lot of yards.But I have never seen us have a lot of yards if the offensive line didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage,” Lakeview coach Matt Miller said. “Football is all about who controls the line of scrimmage and we have found out over the years, if our offensive line can do that we can have a lot of success.”
Lakeview has won six or more games in each of the last five seasons since going to a run-dominated, offensive line-led offense. The Spartans are 6-2 this year heading into the first round of the playoffs as they will travel to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central for a Division 2 contest on Friday.
For Lakeview, it is crucial the offensive line does its job, or else nothing else works and wins are hard to come by. After a hiccup at midseason with two straight losses, Lakeview ended the regular season with three straight wins as the offensive line played its best football of the year.
The play in the trenches hit a high point last week as Lakeview running back Jay’Vion Settles set a school record with 316 yards rushing and CJ Foster added 177 yards rushing himself in a 40-21 win over Gull Lake. On the season, Settles went over 1,000 yards in last week’s game and is at 1,154 with 13 touchdowns with Foster at 735 and seven scores. Even Lakeview running quarterback Josiah Kitchen has been good on the ground with 410 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Our offensive line, as the season has gone on, has gotten better week in and week out and last week they played really well,” Miller said. “I think it is just kids getting better and more comfortable with what we do as the season has gone on. For us, it’s all about technique and working together for nine games, there is a comfort level there right now.”
The current offensive line formation for Lakeview features seniors Logan Stallings (tackle), Maccabee Barrett (guard) and Michael Miller (tight end) on one side of the center, with underclassmen Aiden Booten (tackle), Cameron Wirtz (guard) and Steven Laws (tight end) on the other side, and Jordan Loss snapping the ball from center.
Technique is one of the things that was pointed out by Stallings.
“I think we have come together more as a team in the last weeks, especially the line,” Stallings said. “We are working on getting our pad level down, blocking how we are supposed to block, getting our face mask on the right side so we can get the job done, as the veer offense works better when we do that. When we do all of that, the backs have a nice hole to run through and we get points.”
Of course, as it is with most teams, it is the backs that get all the glory. They score the touchdowns, the cameras find them as they run the ball and they are the ones talking to the media after the game. But at Lakeview, the success of the running game is shared.
“In our offense, it’s important the linemen play well,” Barrett said. “As for why we are playing better as a team, I think it’s because we realized we had to play better as a line and we all stepped up and started working hard and it has showed in games.
“I think the backs know it’s because of us that they get a bunch of yards,” Barrett added with a smile. “Not sure other people all know that, but as long as we all know that, that’s fine.”
Lakeview will be looking for its best effort from the offensive line on the year as the Spartans face a 7-2 Forest Hills Central squad. Playing in the competitive OK White Conference in the Grand Rapids area, the Rangers have made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and have turned the program around this season after back-to-back 2-7 campaigns.
It is the second year in a row Lakeview has faced a team from the OK White Conference in the first round. The Spartans lost to a Lowell squad that advanced to the state finals last season.
“They have played a tough schedule, they are a good team. They lost to Lowell by four, but had that game won,” Miller said. “They have tremendous speed and a lot of nice size and strength and have moved the ball against everybody.”