By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
Springport High School will have to wait at least one more year for its first football playoff victory.
The Spartans led perennial powerhouse Mendon by five points at halftime Friday, but their perfect season unraveled with missed assignments and a key injury in the second half. The Hornets capitalized on their miscues en route to a 21-12 win that ended Springport’s season at 9-1.
“It’s a disappointment. We played a good first half, we had our gameplan, but then we got a big injury that took a little bit away from it,” Springport coach Matt Schwartzkopf said.
“I just told them we didn’t have much success at all last year (1-8) and to stay committed and building on the progress from last year to this year. When you have a group of guys that do what you ask them you can’t help but love the crap out of them.”
The Spartans jumped out early on the 10-time state champions, with senior quarterback Nic Aday orchestrating a 6-minute, 49-second drive that ended with his own 1-yard touchdown run.
On the ensuing drive, Tyler Harris moved the Hornets downfield on the ground, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Tanner Cook. Using an array of delayed handoffs, Harris spelled trouble for Springport all night, finishing with 187 yards on 22 carries.
After a few stalled drives by both teams, Aday found his touch through the air, completing a handful of short passes before Keith Nebleung hauled in a 15-yard touchdown strike on his fingertips to give the Spartans a 12-7 edge.
The drive proved costly, though, as the Spartans lost senior running back Erric Garner to an injury for the rest of the contest, and nothing clicked quite the same after halftime.
Aday completed 24 of 38 passes for 185 yards, including 124 on 11 catches by Mike Neil, but there’s one throw he wishes he could have back.
Several minutes after Cook gave the Hornets a 14-12 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run, the Spartans were nearing midfield when Aday threw an interception straight into Cook’s chest.
“Two guys, one on the right side and one on the left, thought it was different plays and it just screwed the play up from there,” Schwartzkopf said.
Two plays later, the Spartans blitzed on a play-action pass and Cook went straight down the field on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Chance Nightingale.
“They didn’t have a lot of sustained drives, which we didn’t want them to have, but then we also wanted to cut down on the big plays,” Schwartzkopf said.
Nightingale didn’t play like a first-year starter for Mendon, finishing with 170 yards on nine-of-13 passing.
“I thought the last two weeks, our quarterback has played like we expected him to earlier in the year,” Mendon coach John Schwartz said. “Now he’s getting better, making better decisions and playing with more confidence, and that really helps our offense.”