MAPLE CITY — It’s been a while since the Charlevoix football program can say they have been on top.
Twenty years without a conference crown. Forty-three years since its last undefeated regular season.
That all changed Friday.
Charlevoix took home its first conference championship since joining the Northern Michigan Football Conference with a 19-8 victory over Glen Lake to take the Leaders Division title Friday at Glen Lake.
“Our main goal was a conference championship,” Charlevoix senior Phillip Sterrett said. “We have a great team and we were able to finally check that box.
“This means everything to me. Getting that conference championship senior year after coming up short last year, I am coming to tears right now.”
The tears pooling around Sterrett’s eyes during the postgame interview were the last drops of water to fall over the Lakers’ field that was doused with rain throughout the evening. The slippery conditions made the difference in a first half that saw five total turnovers, three of which were fumbles.
Sterrett didn’t take long to force a mistake from the Lakers in the rain. Glen Lake’s first pass by Connor Ciolek was intercepted by Sterrett only 11 seconds into the contest and the Rayders turned that into an early 7-0 lead. A big third-down run from Rayders quarterback Caleb Stuck set up Luke Snyder to run in the opening score from 6 yards out less than two minutes into the contest.
“I’m a leader on this team, so if I make a good play I can get everyone fired up,” Sterrett said of his first-play interception. “That pick was huge because once I turned around to jump up, it fired up my teammates and we just went up from there.”
The Lakers took no time responding, when Finn Hogan took a jet sweep 30 yards through multiple defenders down to the goaline.
Brody Allen plunged in from 1 yard out before Jacob Pleva ran in the two-point conversion to give the Lakers an 8-7 lead, their only one of the game.
After trading fumbles and an interception by Charlevoix’s Dimitri Bell-Chavez, the Rayders were able to drive the ball 51 yards to take a 13-8 lead before half. Stuck took a quarterback keeper in for the go-ahead score.
“We didn’t take advantage of opportunities and shot ourselves in the foot with three turnovers in the first half,” Glen Lake head coach Nate Sneed said. “That is a good team over there, I think that they are going to make a run.”
The Rayder’s defensive effort in the second half kept the Lakers off the board after two of Glen Lake’s main components left the game with injuries. Hogan made a spectacular bobbling catch as time expired in the first half but was shaken up on the play and Ciolek left the game in the fourth with an apparent arm injury. Hogan only played a couple offensive snaps in the second half.
“It’s hard when something like that happens during the course of the game,” Sneed said. “We didn’t quit out there, which is something that I am proud of.”
Stuck and Evan Solomon connected for the only score of the second half, a 31-yard passing score on a fade route with just under three minutes to play in the third.
Stuck paced the Rayders with 16 carries for 92 yards and a score, followed by Snyder with 94 yards on 12 carries and a TD. Stuck completed 2-of-6 passes for 59 yards — Sterrett caught the other pass for 27 yards and was brought down just short of the goal line. Snyder led the Rayders defense with 10 tackles and a sack, followed by Bell-Chavez with five stops and Sterrett at four.
“I couldn’t be happier for these kids,” Charlevoix head coach Don Jess said. “They have worked their tails off with all of the stuff they have been through. This is a great feeling for them and the Charlevoix football program because you know the hard work has paid off.
“A lot of these seniors have done a great job over the last couple of years to help us bring Charlevoix football back. This was one of their goals to begin the season so it’s exciting to meet that goal.”
The Lakers were led by Allen on the ground with 29 yards and a score. Ciolek had 108 passing yards before being replaced by senior Jon Popp due to injury, with 79 of those yards to Hogan.
The Rayders (6-0, 5-0 NMFC-Leaders) await their first-round matchup when the MHSAA announces playoff brackets Sunday. The Lakers (4-2, 4-1 NMFC-Leaders) hope to rebound to make another run to the state championship game.
“This means everything for the years to come in this program,” Sterrett said. “This is going to set a good tone from now on that Charlevoix is back and ready to hit people.”