BRETHREN — Colton Eckler was a little too much for Bear Lake.
The junior running back for Mesick toted the ball 26 times and gained 304 yards with five touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 46-22 win over Bear Lake in a Western Michigan Football D League eight-player game.
A lot was riding on the outcome of the game for both teams. Both came in at 4-2 overall, but the Bulldogs were looking for their third straight win and to boost their conference mark to 4-1.
Yet it wasn’t nearly as easy as the final score might indicate. The Lakers continued to battle throughout the game and never quit. It was what Mesick coach Otto Ream expected.
“We knew they were going to be tough,” Ream said. “They were 4-2, so you know they’d played some pretty darn good ball. We did not take them for granted. This was one of the hardest weeks we’ve worked. The coaches have those kids playing very well.”
Mesick (5-2) took an 8-0 lead less than a minute into the game when Eckler clipped off 50-yard run with 11:19 left in the first quarter.
But the Lakers did not flinch.
After a big pass play from quarterback Bryce Harless to Jake Griffis set the Lakers up at the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line, Gabe Aguilar punched it in to tie the score, 8-8 with 9:01 still to play in the first.
The Bulldogs went ahead for good, 14-8 at the 5:34 mark of the opening period on a 5-yard run by Eckler. They scored two more on a safety, and their lead grew to 23-8 in the second quarter before the Lakers cut it to 23-16 at the half when Harless got in on a sneak at the horn.
“We’ve been battling all year,” Bear Lake coach John Prokes said. “We’ve had some good games, and we’ve had some bad games. What I’ve been really looking for from this football team is to respond when we have some adversity.
“The kids did that last week when we were down, and came back. You kind of wonder in the back of your head ‘Is it a fluke? Can we have some consistency? Can we have some fight in us?’ And we showed that tonight.”
A key moment that Ream said turned the game was when the Lakers (4-3, 1-3 WMD) were knocking on the door with possession deep in Mesick territory to start the third quarter, only to have a couple miscues take them out of scoring range.
Mesick proceeded to pound the ball on the ground — behind Eckler — to another score to extend its lead to 31-16. Eckler scored again early in the fourth as the Bulldogs lead ballooned to 39-16.
“The kids got focused into the game like they should have been when we started,” Ream said. “Eckler is as runner. He took command at the right time, because we lost Joey Hornback. Colton is a good inspirational leader for the team. Ben Humphreys took over at quarterback for us and did one heck of a job. Some kids were playing in positions they don’t normally play, but they all stepped up.”
The Lakers finally had a break go their way when Ethaniel Ruiz muffed the ensuing kickoff, retreated back to his own goal line to recover the ball and then hit the right sideline and raced 99 yards to the house.
“With the turnovers and mistakes that we made, it would have been easy for teams to give up, and we just didn’t do that,” Prokes said. “We had some guys on this team that stepped up as leaders. I think tonight was huge, because I think we turned the corner for the program.”