WALLED LAKE >> Mike Zdebski knew his Walled Lake Western football team had a fight on its hands when the Warriors hosted Lakeland on Thursday night.
Going up against the Eagles’ Wing-T offense was something Zdebski had his Warriors working on all preseason. That practice paid off as his defense stood tall down the stretch and allowed Western to pick up a 13-11 win in a key Lakes Valley Conference contest.
“Our kids have been working on that Wing-T since the summer,” Zdebski said. “We knew (Lakeland) was going to be one of the best teams in this conference with Mott. Our coaches did a great job to prepare for their offense and our kids executed. That’s an outstanding effort for our defense for as many points as (Lakeland) has been putting up.”
The Lakeland (4-2, 4-2 LVC) offense was hampered from the first drive after starting quarterback Brady Woodruff went down with an injury and didn’t return to the game.
With Lakeland sputtering early, Western (5-1, 4-1) got out to a fast start. The Warriors scored 90 seconds into the game when quarterback Sam Johnson connected with Justin Thomas on a 43-yard touchdown pass.
The Warriors would add field goals of 31 yards and 40 yards from Aidan Jennings on their next two possessions thanks to short fields set up by punt returns from Randall Harris.
Western led 13-0 after one quarter, but the Lakeland defense locked in from there, not giving up another point.
“What was really amazing is how our defense played. They stood up and did what they had to do,” Lakeland coach Joe Woodruff said. “We were able to adapt and adjust on defense. Those guys were lights out and did fantastic.”
Lakeland got its first bit of momentum when Walled Lake Western had a bad snap on a punt go out of the end zone, giving the Eagles a safety to make it 13-2.
The Eagles would make it 13-8 just before halftime when Mitchell Boles snuck in a score on a 1-yard run
“When we lost Brady Woodruff, we lost 75 percent of our offense,” Joe Woodruff said. “The adjustments our offensive line and our kids made with our coaching staff was amazing.”
Lakeland opened the second half with a nearly 9-minute possession that resulted in a 34-yard field goal from Leo Skupin to make it 13-11.
The Eagles thought they had a go-ahead touchdown on the drive when Robbie Tracy threw a 36-yard pass to Conner Snell, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on Lakeland.
“We had the winning touchdown called back on a hold. (Western) had holds on any given play. There was no consistency,” Woodruff said. “It is what it is. I can’t fault our kids there. We battled and battled and battled. We can’t let the referees affect the game and unfortunately that’s what happened.”
The fourth quarter saw both teams make key defensive stands. Western was unable to put Lakeland away as the Eagles got great pressure up front on quarterback Sam Johnson.
“We need to get first downs and get offensive production,” Zdebski said. “We have good enough kids on that side of the ball and a good enough offensive line to score a lot of points. We need that production if we are going to move deep into the playoffs.”
Lakeland’s last chance would come with 2:54 to play from its own 35-yard line. The Eagles got into Western territory, but turned the ball over on downs with just over a minute to play after an incomplete pass on fourth-and-seven.
“I am really proud of my kids. They battled,” Woodruff said.
Lakeland will look to bounce back next week when it takes on rival, Milford. Western will look to stay atop the LVC when it faces South Lyon East.