Two weeks ago, a return to the state playoffs seemed inevitable for Huron Valley Lakeland. But, after a 31-12 loss at Howell on Friday, Oct. 12, the Eagles now find themselves on a two-game losing streak and stuck at five wins with one game remaining in the regular season.
Lakeland (5-3) now finds itself in a must-win situation when it hosts rival Huron Valley Milford on Friday, Oct. 19 in order to clinch their first state playoff berth in four years.
Otherwise, the Eagles would have to wait until Selection Sunday on Oct. 21 to see whether they can qualify for the postseason tournament on playoff points.
“I just think we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We weren’t firing on all cylinders,” said Lakeland Head Coach John Maltese of the loss to Howell. “It seemed early on there were plays on third or fourth down on both sides of the ball where we didn’t make a key block or a key stop.”
The Highlanders (5-3) led 17-0 at halftime after quarterback Johnny Cheshire scored two touchdowns, a 5-yard run in the first quarter and a 1-yard run in the second quarter, before the Howell added a field goal just before the half concluded.
Cheshire then threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to John Brennan, who then scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to give Howell a 31-0 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Lakeland scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, as Kyle Jakubowski threw touchdown passes to Beau Whilhelm (37 yards) and Charles Sanders (40 yards), but that was all it could manage as it suffered its second straight blowout loss following a 51-6 defeat at the hands of Walled Lake Northern the previous week.
“Our opponents and matchups have a lot to do with this, but we didn’t play our best,” Maltese said.
Ross Heiman completed 3-of-10 passes for 20 yards for Lakeland before Jakubowski relieved him and completed 4-of-9 passes for 110 yards.
Lakeland’s rushing game was held in check as Dalton Christie had 39 yards and Anthony Waite had 17.
William Schroeder made 13 tackles, while Jon Yeatman had 11 for an Eagles defense that surrendered 322 total yards.
Cheshire completed 9-of-11 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two touchdowns for Howell.
Damien Minoch had 94 yards rushing on 25 carries, while Joe Olszewski and Cody Wiggins each had an interception, as the Highlanders moved to within one victory of clinching a state playoff berth.
Now Lakeland will prepare for its annual meeting with Milford, and for the third straight year, a playoff berth will be at stake for at least one of the two teams.
In 2010, the Eagles defeated the Mavericks 32-31 at home in overtime, denying Milford a sixth victory as both teams finished 5-4 and missed the playoffs.
Last season, Milford returned the favor by winning at home, 33-14, to reach six wins and clinch a playoff berth while the Eagles finished 4-5.
Now Lakeland will be facing a Milford team fresh off a 49-7 victory over Waterford Kettering last Friday, and one that would love nothing more than to play a spoiler.
“Because it’s a rivalry, it’s an emotional and important game and we’ll treat it like that,” Maltese said.