Vikings hold on for 18-13 win over Kalamazoo Central
NILES — A bend-but-don’t-break defense and a timely trick play propelled the Niles Vikings to an 18-13 upset of visiting Kalamazoo Central Friday night.
The Vikings (3-4) gave up plenty of yardage, but were able to keep the Maroon Giants (4-3) out of the end zone for most of the game, especially in the first half.
Even so, the outcome was up in the air until the final play when Giants’ quarterback Jacob Lyle’s pass was swatted incomplete as time expired.
Vikings senior Cole Simpson threw two touchdown passes — one to junior Jamison Zimmerman and the other to senior Jordon Brown — while junior Javond Ball added a scoring run.
Vikings coach Joe Sassano described the win as a total team effort.
“Everybody just played with real tenacity,” he said. “I think we’ve been hungry enough to get a win like this. It has been a while since we have beaten a team like this that comes in at 4-2 and No. 1 on their side of the conference. We’ve let a few slip away this year we feel, but we weren’t going to let this one slip away tonight.”
Kalamazoo Central turned the ball over six times, including three by turnover on downs, a fumbled punt return, an interception and a fumble on a running play. The Vikings also blocked a field goal attempt and a punt.
The Vikings turned two of those turnovers into touchdowns on their following offensive possessions.
“We are just really proud of the kids with the year that we’ve had and to hang in there,” Sassano said. “5-4 is our goal and hopefully is enough with our schedule to get us a playoff spot.”
Niles got off to a hot start by taking advantage of a fumbled punt return in the first quarter. The ball bounced through the legs of returner Chris Reynolds and was recovered by senior Tysen Custard at the Kalamazoo 10-yard line. Ball ran the ball in from four yards out three plays later to give the Vikings a 6-0 lead with 5:17 to play in the opening quarter.
Kalamazoo was able to drive down the field on the Vikings in the first half but was unable to come up with any points. Senior Cade Best sacked Lyle at the Vikings’ 13-yard line on third and goal. Unable to locate an open receiver on fourth down, Lyle attempted to run the ball in but was stopped at the 5 yard line for a turnover on downs.
The Giants had a good chance to put points on the board in the waning moments of the first half, but Lyle’s pass to senior Jaquan Thompson in the end zone was incomplete as time expired.
Vikings’ senior Dawson Bruckner recovered a fumble at the Kalamazoo 43-yard line with 5:20 left in the third quarter. The Vikings scored a few plays later when Simpson found Zimmerman in the corner of the end zone on third and goal for a 12-0 lead.
The Giants got back in the game with a long drive capped by a two-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jaden Blanchard with 2:06 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings responded on the following offensive possession with a trick play double pass that stole the momentum back from the Giants. Quarterback Brayden Lake threw the ball to Simpson who found Brown running free down the left sideline for a 69 yard catch and run score, putting the Vikings on top 18-7.
“You have to do those kinds of things to win these kinds of games to try and shift that momentum back,” Sassano said. “To get that back with an offensive play was huge for us.”
Blanchard brought the Giants within striking distance at 18-13 with 5:37 to play on a 26-yard touchdown run.
Niles finished the night with 239 yards of total offense compared to 458 yards by Kalamazoo Central.
Simpson was 2-for-2 for 85 yards, while Brayden Lake was 7-of-14 for 59 yards.
Ball led the rushing attack with 89 yards on 17 carries.
Tysen Custard had a pair of catches for 32 yards.
Defensively, Andrew Smith had 13.5 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.
Dawson Bruckner finished with 10 stops, while Simpson had eight tackles.
Terris Frick had an interception for the Vikings, who host Battle Creek Central Friday night.
NILES 18, KALAMAZOO CENTRAL 13
Central 0 0 7 6 – 13
Niles 6 0 12 0 – 18
N – Javond Ball 4 run (kick failed)
N – Jamison Zimmerman 15 pass from Cole Simpson (conversion failed)
KC – 3 run (kick good)
N – Jordan Brown 70 pass from Simpson (conversion failed)
KC – 26 run (conversion failed)
Varsity records: Kalamazoo Central 4-3, Niles 3-4