Gielczyk: Houghton Lake Looks to Make History Against Millington
Special teams played a big role in the Houghton Lake football team’s historic 20-16 victory over the Harrison Hornets on the latter’s field last week in the opening round of the MHSAA playoffs.
And the defense stepped up and delivered some key stops as well.
Houghton Lake struggled to get its offense in gear through the first half, but it’s defense kept the Bobcats in the game, holding the Hornets to only eight points for a two-point, 8-6 deficit at intermission.
Defensive end Austin Walker ended a potential scoring drive when he recovered a Hornets’ fumble in the second quarter, but the Bobcats failed to capitalize on the opportunity before the half ended.
But the Bobcats’ fortunes quickly took a turn for the better, and they gained the momentum, at the start of the second half.
In dramatic fashion, too.
Robert Press brought the Bobcats’ fans who made the trip to their feet when he returned the second half kickoff back 95 yards to the end zone for the touchdown that lifted the Bobcats into a 16-6 lead in the blink of an eye.
It marked the beginning of the turnaround for the Bobcats.
Houghton Lake forced the Hornets into a punting situation on their next series after the ensuing kickoff, and Shawn McKinley charged in to block the punt, giving the Bobcats’ excellent field position.
The Bobcats would capitalize just a few plays later when Jackson Blanchard scored on a quarterback keeper. He would finish the game as the Bobcats’ leading rusher, with 146 yards on 22 carries.
Despite only leading by 12, the Bobcats felt pretty comfortable. Even when the Hornets scored late in the third to climb back into the game and trail by only four points, Houghton Lake didn’t panic.
Holloway knew there was no reason to.
“They run the T offense, and it takes them a little bit of time to score, so we felt pretty comfortable (being) up by 12, and we hung on for the victory,” said Holloway. “I think our defense was playing extremely well, and I felt like they had done a really good job in the first half to keep them to eight points, and only one big drive in the second half … I was very proud of them.
“You need to get in (the playoffs) before you get a win, and when get a win you learn how to win in the playoffs, which is not an easy task.”
Houghton Lake’s playoff win understandably has the entire community excited, and hoping the Bobcats can keep it going.
It’s only the third playoff win in the school’s history (1994 and 2001 were the others). Last year’s appearance in the postseason was the Bobcats’ first since 2009, so the Bobcats’ fans haven’t experienced this rarefied air very often.
To say Houghton Lake’s playoff run is a big deal for the community would be an understatement of major proportions.
With 14 seniors coming back that had received playing time last year, as well as a couple of juniors that started the previous season, the Bobcats had the experience necessary to put a good season together.
It took a while, though.
Houghton Lake got off to a mediocre 4-4 start, and things looked bleaker still when they dropped a 24-22 game to Harrison that stung pretty bad.
But, then the Bobcats won their final two games of the regular season to finish 6-3 and earn a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. It might have had the Bobcats flying a little under everyone’s radar coming in.
“You just need to get to six wins, and that gets you in the door,” Holloway says. “Once you’re in the door, things take care of themselves. I said to the kids last week ‘We’re one of 256 teams playing.’ This week, we’re one of 128 teams playing.
“We’ll let that speak for us. They’re disappointed with those two close losses, but of those two losses, we’re going to continue play (this week) and neither of those two teams will. I think that’s mindset.
“Ultimately, this time of year you earn your way into each additional round. I’m very proud of the win.”
The Bobcats have all the indications of being a tough out following their comeback win last Friday, and the numbers bear it out. Houghton Lake has scored 321 points, while giving up just 186.
But, it’s the excitement around the players that has Holloway beaming, from the growing youth program that is teeming with players, to the successful junior varsity program that had its first winning record in several years that has Holloway the happiest.
It points to an increasingly bright future for the Bobcats.
Naturally, he’s preparing the Bobcats (7-3) for a district championship game against Millington (9-1) this week. But, he can’t help but look ahead, and what he sees is all positive.
“Everything is trending in the right direction for our program,” added Holloway.
Another win in the playoffs, and a district title, wouldn’t hurt. The Bobcats want that trophy.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.