Dreams come to end
Westwood bows out of playoffs with 25-16 loss at Lake City
By MARC VIEAU
Special to the Journal
LAKE CITY — Slowly, the tide is turning for Westwood football.
Two trips to the playoffs in three seasons with a large number of players coming back in 2018.
Scott Syrjala’s plans are coming to fruition.
It’s just going to take more time.
The Patriots saw their season come to an end in a 25-16 loss to Lake City on Saturday afternoon in an MHSAA Division 7 district title game, but that doesn’t dim what they did this year.
Westwood, which finished at 9-2, was runner-up to Gladstone in the Mid-Peninsula Conference and continued Syrjala’s process in his third year of turning things around at his alma mater.
His first step was thanking his seniors for aiding in the rebuild.
“I want to wish our seniors well,” Syrjala said. “That group of seniors has been with me since they were sophomores when I first began here and the road hasn’t been easy.
“We’re trying to build a culture, a team and a program. Those seniors were a big part of it.”
Westwood was on the doorstep of a huge win Saturday and a berth in the regional finals but some critical mistakes here and there were the difference.
The Patriots fumbled the opening kickoff to Lake City, turned the ball over a couple of other times and struggled at times with their execution.
“We made too many mistakes,” Syrjala said. “We were lined up wrong, we false-started, we dropped passes, we fumbled … we haven’t done those things all year.”
While mistakes were part of the game for both sides as Lake City had some issues too, the Trojans were able to attack Westwood in key spots.
“You’ve got to give Lake City credit,” Syrjala said. “It was two fairly evenly matched teams and I’ll be honest … they were strong where we were weak.
“They had a lot of speed. We knew No. 16 (Zach Noren) was fast and I thought for the most part, we contained him until that big run in the second half. That was huge. That was a momentum turner. We struggled in pass coverage, too. What do you do, though? You’ve got to give Lake City credit.”
The Trojans scored first on a 5-yard run by Noren to make it 6-0 with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
The Trojans went up 12-0 on a 3-yard run by Noren just 28 seconds into the second quarter before Westwood responded.
Quarterback Nathan Beckman picked up a bad snap and scampered 63 yards down the sideline to make it 12-8 a little less than two minutes later.
It stayed that way until late in the third quarter when Lake City’s Matt Holt hooked up with Noren for a 16-yard touchdown pass that made it 18-8.
Westwood responded with a scoring drive of its own, picking up a couple of key fourth-down conversions, none bigger than Beckman finding Erik Anderson for an 8-yard completion on fourth-and-5 at the Trojans’ 9-yard line with 5:40 left.
Beckman ran it in from 1 yard out on the next play and Tyler Lindholm ran in the conversion to pull the visitors within 18-16.
The momentum-turner Syrjala talked about earlier came on Lake City’s next play from scrimmage. Noren took the ball around the left and went 70 yards to the end zone. With an extra-point kick, it made it a two-score game at 25-16 with 5:24 to go.
That play came thanks in part to the Trojans’ line wearing down Westwood.
“I think where our advantage was is we have a big offensive line and it moves well,” Lake City coach Kyle Smith said. “I think that eventually wore them down. Playing downhill football was really a key for us. In a way, that helped us on that last edge play where Zach took it for the touchdown. That was the back breaker.”
Westwood got deep into Lake City territory again after that but couldn’t break through for the score.
Beckman carried the ball 21 times for 167 yards and was 7 of 17 passing for 105 yards. The Patriots totaled 343 yards of offense.
Noren led Lake City with 32 carries for 145 yards and two TDs. Holt was 10 of 17 passing for 146 yards and a score.
Lake City, 11-0 for the first time in program history, hosts Breckenridge (10-1) in a regional title game next weekend.
If the Patriots had won, they would have made a long trip to the Gratiot County community located about 20 miles west of Saginaw.
Marc Vieau is a sports writer at the Cadillac News.