‘We are a team’ Ball leading Vikings by example

NILES — On what turned out to be a beautiful opening night for Michigan high school football, the Niles Vikings hoped to mimic the result of last year’s tilt against the Battle Creek Lakeview Spartans.

But unlike the 32-27 winning result on the road at Lakeview last year, the Vikings found themselves in the middle of a very aggressive Spartan running game and fell 46-6 at home.

Javond Ball quickly had the Niles (0-1) fans on their feet when he used a spin move in the middle of the Lakeview defense and scampered for 33 yards after the Vikings forced a three-and-out.

“It felt great to get my first carry of the year out of the way,” Ball said. “We came out and hit them hard. It was soon after they hit us harder and faster. I don’t think we were ready for it.”

Niles eventually had to punt on fourth down, with Lakeview beginning its second drive of the game on the 20-yard line.

Five straight first-down rushes of 15, 16, 12, 11, and 12 yards put Lakeview on the Niles’ five-yard line. From there, Jackson Kitchen found the end zone for his first of four touchdowns on the night.

“They gashed us with their running game,” said Niles coach Joe Sassano. “Physically, they handled us offensively and defensively, and won the battle on the line the whole night. When you have a running game like they had tonight, it’s easy to control the clock and methodically move it down the field getting those first downs. And it kept our offense off the field.”

Lakeview (1-0) forced a three-and-out on the Vikings’ ensuing drive before Spartan quarterback Jack Goodman added a five-yard rushing touchdown of his own to make the score 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Kitchen’s second score, on a 36-yard rush, gave the Spartans a 20-0 lead with just minutes remaining in the first half.

Aided by two 15-yard penalties by Lakeview, Niles finally tallied their first points of the young season. Ball found Jamison Zimmerman with an 18-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.

Niles started the second half with a first down and seemed to find their groove, but ultimately had to punt and give Lakeview the ball. The Vikings could not find any momentum offensively the rest of the night.

Kitchen scored on rushes of six and 13 yards in the third quarter, and Aaron Rainey would return a Niles fumble 37-yards to make the score 40-6 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Lakeview dominated the running game 427 to 85 yards and had 26 first downs compared to the Vikings nine.

During the post-game huddle, Ball could be seen standing in front of his teammates showing plenty of emotion.

“I told the guys we have to work harder,” Ball said about that moment. “We are a team, and we all have to do our job for things to work. We can’t count on one person. We have to work together. Throughout the rest of the season, all I care about is improving every day. Our record doesn’t even matter to me.”

“Javond (Ball) leads more by example rather than vocally,” Sassano said about Ball. “This is a kid that goes 100 miles per hour at practice every day. His job now is to get everyone to follow his lead. As you can tell, he is that guy that has no problem talking in front is his teammates.”

Niles will travel to St. Joe next week, looking to even out their record.

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