LESLIE — Lakewood had not won a conference title in football since 1980, when it shared the Tri-River Conference title with Coopersville High School.
It’s been a long time since then, and the Vikings’ struggles of late at the varsity level also appear to be far in the past.
Lakewood scored on its first four drives to jump on Leslie early en route to a 42-0 win. The Vikings (6-0, 4-0) equaled their win total from the previous four seasons combined and clinched the program’s first playoff bid since 2002.
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“It feels incredible. The community hasn’t had this,” junior quarterback Kyle Willette said. “Our confidence goes up every week. My grade and especially the senior class this year really knew we were a special group. You wouldn’t know who is a junior or a senior on this team. Everybody acts the same and everybody is here to win.”
Lakewood continued the momentum that had propelled it to a 5-0 start with an opening five-play, 52-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run from sophomore Tommy Houghton.
A short punt on Leslie’s first drive gave Lakewood the ball in plus territory again and a 28-yard run by junior Noah Caudy took the ball to the Leslie 10-yard line.
Lakewood scored the next play on a 10-yard run by Houghton.
Two 15-yard penalties aided Lakewood’s third drive, but a chop block backed them up to the Leslie 25-yard line for a long third down with over 20 yards to gain for a first.
Willette found senior Dylan Kemp for a touchdown pass and the Vikings had a 20-0 lead in the first quarter.
“We talked all week about not having a letdown,” Lakewood coach Nick Boucher said with his team chanting ‘We are in’ behind him. “They took hold of that.”
The second quarter saw Lakewood block a punt that was recovered by Leslie (2-4, 2-2) in the end zone for a safety and senior Kaleb Rogers scored on a short TD run after the free kick and ensuing Viking drive.
A potential fifth consecutive scoring drive ended inside the Leslie 10 with a fumbled snap on fourth and short, but Lakewood cruised in the second half, adding TD runs from Houghton and Jordan Tooker.
Lakewood continued its path to its first undefeated regular season since 1975. The Vikings can wrap up the outright GLAC title next week against Perry before closing with Fowlerville and Ionia in non-league games.
“It feels really good to give back to the community. They were patient,” Boucher said. “They believed and the kids gave and it’s a great feeling for the kids and everyone involved. … It’s been a great season and we know we still have three games to play.”