The Watervliet Panthers used big pass plays and strong defense to win at Schoolcraft Friday, improving to 8-0 with a 36-14 victory over the Eagles. The win also puts them at 4-0 in the SAC Lakeshore division and clinches the top spot, thanks to Coloma falling to Delton Kellogg.
Watervliet (ranked fourth in the Associated Press Division 6 poll) began with the ball and faced a third and long on their first set of downs following a sack. Quarterback Zack Pickens connected with Trent Boone on a 70-yard pass to get them into the red zone. The Eagle defense forced a fourth and seven from the 19-yard line, but Pickens found Garrett Matthews in the end zone, followed by a two-point pass to Bryant Kieft, for a 8-0 Watervliet lead.
Schoolcraft had a three and out, but was able to force a turnover on downs on the second Panther drive. The Eagle offense stalled again and Watervliet scored on their third drive with 10:56 in the second quarter with a 41-yard TD pass from Pickens to Kieft. The two-point try ended in a sack for a 14-0 score.
Schoolcraft’s third drive finally saw progress, chipping away on 13 plays for 58 yards. Fullback Jack Hunt’s 27-yard rushing score put the Eagles back within seven, 14-7. Schoolcraft then forced a very rare Watervliet punt because of multiple tackles for a loss, starting their next drive 31 yards from the end zone. A 15-yard Kobe Clark rushing score evened the game at 14-14 with 1:20 remaining.
However, Watervliet reclaimed the lead on a wild 62-yard passing touchdown to Boone with only three seconds remaining. A two-point run from Kieft gave the Panthers a 22-14 lead into intermission.
Schoolcraft started with the ball in the third, but were denied for a turnover on downs near midfield. Watervliet responded with their longest drive in terms of plays (nine) and punched into the end zone with a 5-yard Kieft rush. He would catch the two-point toss as well to push the Panthers to a 30-14 score.
The Eagles made it past midfield, but squandered an opportunity with a dropped pass that likely would’ve put them into the end zone. Their drive ended in another turnover on downs. Watervliet needed one play to add to their lead, as Kieft turned a screen pass into a 72-yard score late in the third. The two-point pass failed, putting the score at its final mark of 36-14.
The Eagles punted to start the fourth quarter and were able to force a quick turnover on downs only 25 yards from the end zone with 8:32 remaining. However, the Panthers sealed the win with the game’s lone takeaway, a Pickens interception in the end zone, and drained the clock from there.
Unofficially, Pickens was 11-17 for 348 yards and four touchdowns. The Eagle defense did get multiple sacks and stifled Pickens on the ground, holding him to 14 rushing yards on 24 attempts. Kieft had four catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns, along with 49 yards and a score on the ground. Boone had four catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. The 36-point effort was actually Watervliet’s lowest of the year, as they had scored 50 or more in the first seven weeks.
For Schoolcraft, Jack Hunt had a workhorse effort at 96 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. The rest of the run game had 55 yards with only 32 pass yards. Starting quarterback Dylan Straley was 0-3 and Brady Flynn, who replaced Straley due to injury, was 3-9 for 32 yards and one interception.
Watervliet moves to 8-0 and secures the SAC Lakeshore division at 4-0. They end their regular season at home next Friday against Coloma (5-3). Meanwhile, Schoolcraft falls to 5-3, 2-2 in the Valley, and must win week nine to guarantee a playoff spot. They host Kalamazoo United (6-2) in a game that can be heard on the Slocum Sports Network.
Listen back to week eight’s game below: