SOUTH LYON — When the 2018 season was approaching, many were looking forward to the conference race in the Lakes Valley Conference.
With Waterford Mott, Walled Lake Western and Lakeland all bringing in strong teams after a solid 2017, it was expected to be a three-team race to the end.
South Lyon wasn’t on the radar for anyone following a 1-8 campaign in 2017, but the Lions finished off their role as spoiler on Friday night when they locked up the 2018 LVC title with a 29-19 win over Walled Lake Western.
“What I was thinking in the summer is that we had a lot of kids back that really committed themselves in the offseason and really believed in each other,” South Lyon coach Jeff Henson said of if he believed his team was capable of the conference title in the preseason.
“This is a group of kids that believe in who they are and what they do. I think that is why they are having the success they are this season.”
Facing its toughest test to date, the Lions (8-0, 7-0 LVC) did something they have managed to do in a lot of their big games this year, start fast.
South Lyon established a 21-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to three touchdown drives on its first three possessions.
“They jumped on us early and executed better than we did,” Walled Lake Western coach Alex Grignon said. “We have to come out and play to win right away. You have to be the better team for four quarters.”
The Lions had a 14-yard touchdown run from Michael Dancer, a 47-yard touchdown run from Brenden Lach and a 28-yard score from Ian Goins to open the game.
Needing a spark, Western (5-3, 5-2) finally got started late in the first when CJ Brown busted open a 70-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6.
The Warriors would get a quick defensive stop and then put together another scoring drive, ending with a Brown 6-yard run to turn the 21-0 deficit to 21-13.
After another defensive stop, the Warriors found themselves pinned on their goal line following a South Lyon punt. The Lions would end the Warriors’ surge by earning a safety on a tackle from Jesse Powell, putting the Lions up 23-13.
The Warriors would march late in the half, only to see a drive end on an interception. In the second half, Western had a short field goal attempt go awry on a bobbled snap of a wet football.
“We had missed opportunities. That has been the story of our season so far,” Grignon said. “We have to capitalize on those moments. You can’t put it on just one play (Friday). We had a lot of plays that we didn’t capitalize on.”
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
The Warriors kept themselves in the game in the third, stopping the Lions on the Western 3-yard line to avoid going down three scores. Western would then get to within four points when quarterback Sam Johnson bought himself time in the pocket on fourth-and-15 and found a wide open Kevin Jackson for a 45-yard touchdown. That put the Warriors down 23-19 after a failed PAT attempt.
Knowing its chance at the LVC title could be at stake, the Lions put together one of their best drives of the season. South Lyon converted a pair of fourth downs and ate up a lot of clock before Goins would score on an 18-yard run to make the score 29-19.
“We have been very consistent in what we do,” Henson said of his team. “We have played decent defense all year long and we have stayed in games and been able to win some games late with our offense. We have complimented each other week-to-week. I think that has been the big difference. We just take things one game at a time.”
The Lions defense held up in the final six minutes to give South Lyon its first 8-0 start since 1996.
“It’s high school football and when a bunch of people believe in something and the kids believe in something, that’s what it takes to win,” Henson said. “That’s what our kids are doing right now.”
The Lions will look to finish with a perfect regular season next week when it travels to South Lyon East while Walled Lake Western hopes to secure a playoff spot when it hosts Walled Lake Central.