The biggest struggle for the Stockbridge football team in recent years has come on the defensive side of the ball, but they have been showing improvement as the 2019 season has moved along.
Friday night the defense finally clicked as the Panthers defeated Lakewood 16-14 for the first win of the season for Stockbridge.
The 14 points the lowest total allowed by Stockbridge since 2015 when they held Durand to 12 points in a 47-12 win.
“I can’t say enough about the improvement our defense has made,” Coach Jeremy Killinger said. “We started the season with a number of inexperienced players, including five on the defensive side that had never played before.
The Panthers had a tough start of the season with a schedule that included a pair of state-ranked playoff teams in Grass Lake and Olivet and a Dundee team that just missed the playoffs. Grass Lake and Dundee combined for 132 points in the first two games. The defense started to find its footing against Olivet in week three and even though they gave up over 30 points a game over the next three starts, there was still signs of improvement.
It all came together on Friday night.
The Panthers forced Lakewood to punt multiple times in the game. A first this season.
After a scoreless first quarter, Stockbridge took the lead on a six-yard TD run by Brandon Nelson. The Panthers used a little trickery on the two-point conversion when they handed to Ty Ayers on a tackle around reverse and he ran it in for an 8-0 lead.
Lakewood bounced back with a scoring run and two-point conversion to tie things at 8-8.
William Porter recovered a Vikings fumble to give the Panthers good field position and they drove to the Lakewood 12 yard line late in the half, but three straight penalties pushed the ball back and they were forced to punt.
The crowd gasped when under a second left in the half the Vikings took a hand-off and broke a tackle and nearly took it the distance, but the Panthers made the tackle after a 53-yard gain to end the half.
The third quarter was grind it out football as both teams had the ball just one time and it remained tied heading into the fourth at 8-8.
Lakewood took the lead with a 13-yard scoring pass just 30 seconds into the final quarter. The two-point pass failed and the Vikings led 14-8.
The Panthers got the ball late and had good field position and moved into Lakewood territory.
Facing fourth down with 2:42 left in the game, Nelson hit Jeremy Pilch with a 20-yard scoring pass to tie the game. Nelson then ran it in for the two-point conversion to give Stockbridge a 16-14 lead.
Lakewood had one final chance, but the Panthers defense came up big and stopped the Vikings for the victory.
The win snapped a nine-game losing streak for Stockbridge.
Nelson had a big game. He was 12-18 passing for 120 yards and a score. He also led the team in rushing with 68 yards on 14 carries, a touchdown, and the game-winning two-pointer.
Pilch caught four passes for 63 yards and a score, Brad Niec two for 32, Riley Kennedy three for 17, and Noah Robidou one for 11.
Ayers led the defense with four solo tackles and five assists. Kennedy, Josh Lewis, and Lucas Gauss were in on seven combined tackles each. Pilch finished with six tackles and an interception, while Micah Beauregard was in on five tackles and Robidou four.
“We were thrown into the fire the first three weeks with a difficult schedule,” Killinger said. “We are beginning to peak and it certainly has been fun to watch it happen.”
The Panthers are on the road the next two weeks when they travel to Perry and a long trip to Wyoming (MI) Lee. They then wrap up the season at home against Owosso on October 25.