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Relentless Unity Christian runs away from Spring Lake in CatchMark Game of the Week

Crusaders’ promising season ended abruptly last year over COVID-19 concerns, but they have not missed a beat.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

SPRING LAKE – Spring Lake ran with powerhouse Hudsonville Unity Christian for the first 15 minutes of Friday night’s battle of unbeaten, top five-ranked Division 4 football teams at Grabinski Stadium.

Difference was, the third-ranked Crusaders never slowed down in the CatchMark SportsNet Game of the Week. They just kept going, to the tune of 46-straight points en route to a 54-21 victory in a key OK Blue Conference matchup before a standing-room-only homecoming crowd for the fifth-ranked Lakers.

Unity Christian (6-0, 4-0 OK Blue) remains tied atop the conference standings with Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-0, 4-0) after four league teams entered the evening with perfect records. West Catholic rallied past host Coopersville Friday, 28-24. Unity hosts West Catholic at 7 p.m. next Friday at Hudsonville’s Eagle Stadium.

“We didn’t start off how we really wanted to on defense, but we came back and our offense was sticking it to ’em,” said Unity Christian senior Cameron Chandler, whose team is averaging 55 points per game this season. “We love to put up those points and, overall, good performance tonight, I would say.”

It won’t get much easier for Spring Lake (5-1, 3-1) going forward. The Lakers host Coopersville next week and visit West Catholic in Week 8.

Against Unity Christian, the Lakers were shorthanded. Seniors Christian Folkert, an all-area performer, and Brodie Lightfoot were in street clothes as they nursed injuries.

Still, Spring Lake got off to a great start with touchdown drives on their first two possessions. Senior quarterback Jackson Core capped an 80-yard game-opening drive with his 9-yard run. Carter Ball tacked on the PAT to give the Lakers a 7-0 lead not quite five minutes into the game.

Unity Christian answered immediately. Chandler returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to Spring Lake’s 20, and the Crusaders scored two plays later. Twin brother Drew Chandler scored on an 18-yard run, then Cameron Chandler added the conversion to put their team ahead, 8-7, with 6 ½ minutes left in the quarter.

Spring Lake had a response. The Lakers moved the ball down the field again and went back in front, 14-8, on Alex Lee’s 1-yard TD run and Ball’s PAT.

But, again, Unity Christian wasted no time taking the upper hand. In just three plays, the Crusaders went ahead 16-14 on Micah Bush’s 56-yard burst up the gut and Drew Chandler’s conversion run.

Unity continued to rattle off the game’s next 38 points. The Crusaders led 34-14 at halftime and extended the margin to 54-14 late in the third quarter to get the running clock rolling.

Spring Lake’s Andrew Von Wahlde (2) and his teammates storm the field through a banner prior to a battle of unbeatens against Unity Christian Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, at Grabinski Stadium in Spring Lake, Mich. Unity Christian beat Spring Lake, 54-21. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

“I think that they had a great game plan. I thought that we had a good game plan, too, but we just didn’t execute and with them they’re so explosive that if they get the opportunity, they’re going to make big plays and that’s what happened,” Spring Lake coach Dan Start said. “We started to kind of fall behind a little bit and then we kind of got off the rails a bit.”

Unity Christian gave Spring Lake a lot to think about with a diversified attack that featured 291 rushing yards and 114 passing.

Four players ran for at least 47 yards, led by Drew Chandler’s 81 on just seven attempts with two TDs. Five Crusaders scored rushing TDs in the game, while Cameron Chandler finished 4-of-5 passing with a scoring toss.

“(Spring Lake) is a good football team and they came down and they just pounded it right at us on those first two drives. We said, ‘All right, what are you going to do? Are we going to show up? What are we going to do here?’” Unity Christian coach Craig Tibbe said.

“The kids answered both times and then started picking things up on ‘D’ a little bit. … The defense really stepped up and gave our offense the opportunity to get after it. It was fun to see.”

Spring Lake fans pack the stands on homecoming night for battle of unbeatens between the Lakers and Unity Christian Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Spring Lake, Mich. Unity Christian beat Spring Lake, 54-21. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Spring Lake did have success on the ground. The Lakers totaled 246 rushing yards, led by the hard-running Lee with 150 on 35 carries with two TDs.

Core finished 5-of-11 passing for 56 yards with two interceptions. Andrew Von Wahlde led Spring Lake’s defense with six tackles.

Unity Christian has run past each of its first six opponents this season. The Crusaders’ lowest offensive output came in a 46-7 victory over Allendale in Week 4.

“It really all comes down to our defense. If we can stop ’em, our offense is pretty solid and we seem to do the same thing every game so it’s a good thing,” Drew Chandler said. “Our defense has just got to come out every game and stop ’em.”

Unity Christian captured the program’s first state championship in 2018. In 2020, the Crusaders won their first seven games in convincing fashion before their season ended abruptly in the districts out of COVID-19 concerns.

Tibbe said that his senior-led squad has left that disappointment in the past, but the Chandler brothers agree that it fueled the Crusaders in the offseason.

Now, they’re looking to take this season as far as they can go.

“That’s definitely the goal. I remember, I was a freshman and I got in on the last play (in the state finals at Ford Field) – just the craziest feeling, so I’m definitely looking for that again and that’s what we’re going far,” Drew Chandler said.

Added Cameron Chandler: “(The abrupt end to 2020) was definitely a big part of the offseason. I mean, we were gaining in the weight room … we definitely put in a ton of work in the offseason. We’re looking forward to putting in more work during the season.”

Unity Christian senior twins Cameron Chandler, left, and Drew Chandler pose for a portrait following their team’s 54-21 win over Spring Lake Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, at Grabinski Stadium in Spring Lake, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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