Two of the best football programs in the state of Michigan added a classic for their history books Friday night at Memorial Field in East Grand Rapids as Lowell, the number one team in Division 2, survived a four overtime thriller against the Pioneers, 42-39.
“It was an unbelievable game, ” emphasized EGR football coach Peter Stuursma. “Our kids battled their tails off on both sides of the ball. This is what a rivalry is, mark that down.”
While it may be remembered as a classic, Lowell Red Arrow football coach Noel Dean was not ready to call it a typical Lowell/EGR football game at Memorial Field. “It wasn’t a typical game played here, because we won,” Dean quipped as he left Memorial Field following a game-winning, 10-yard touchdown pass from Kyler Shurlow to Kyle Blough on first down of its fourth possession in overtime.
The score followed the Red Arrows’ defense stopping the Pioneers on four consecutive pass plays from the 10 yard line.
“It wasn’t easy. It took a full team effort,” Shurlow concurred. “East ran an awesome defense scheme against us tonight. Our final score was one of our favorite go-to plays.”
The Pioneer defense kept the high-powered Lowell offense under wraps in regulation with the exception of two plays.
Shurlow broke through a Pioneer defense, on the first playoff the game, for a 94-yard touchdown run.
Then, trailing 19-15 and facing a fourth-and-six from the its own 24 yard line, Shurlow found Ben Bigham on a sideline route. The senior receiver, skipped past a defender and raced 76-yards for a go-ahead score (22-19).
However, the score left three minutes for the Pioneer senior backup quarterback Peter Stewart. It was more than enough time. Stewart connected on throws of 13 and 22 yards, taking the ball down to the Lowell 15. Three plays later on a third and 16 from the Lowell 21, Stewart found Jack Faulkner at the six yard line, setting up a game-tying 24-yard field from Noah Salasky with 54 seconds to play.
“Peter is the most capable quarterback a coach could ask for to replace your starter. He’s a senior, athletic and a leader. Tonight he made plays,” Stuursma said.
Both clubs missed field goal attempts in the opening overtime. Lowell from 25 yards and East from 32 yards.
The Pionners took a short-lived lead in the second overtime when Steward found Tre’Shown Fields in the end zone on a first-and-10 from the Red Arrow 10 yard line. Lowell tied it at 29-29 moments later on a seven-yard burst from Kanon Dean.
Lowell grabbed the lead back in the third overtime on a pass-and-catch from Shurlow to Bigham. East answered with a six-yard, scoring pass from Stewart to Drew Hollerbach.
Lowell’s offense never seemed fully in sync against the Pioneers, while its defense struggled to slow down Stewart and company’s air attack.
“I don’t think it’s anything we did or didn’t do. I think East had a lot to do with it. That’a good football program and a team that grew up tonight. Add to it that Peter (Stuursma) had one full week to work to get ready for us,” Dean explained.
Lowell’s two other scores in the first half came on a safety and a 31-yard touchdown from Shurlow to Bigham with 2:13 left to play in the half.
East’s only touchdown came at the 6:17 mark of the first quarter when Stewart found Fields for 45 yards and a score.
The Pioneers, trailing 15-6 at halftime, opened the third quarter with a 67-yard scoring drive capped off by a 37-yard touchdown pass from Steward to Fields.
East took its first lead (19-15) of the game on a three-yard run by David Evans Jr. The two-point conversion was no good.
The win improved Lowell to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the O-K White, qualifying the Red Arrows for the post-season playoff.
East is now 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the league..
“You always ask for a chance to win the game and we had that chance,” East Grand Rapids coach Peter Stuursma said. “I’m proud of our kids. We kept battling.”
Katie McIntosh, a kindergarden teacher at East’s Lakeside Elementary, is a breast cancer survivor and the sister of EGR football coach Peter Stuursma.
The East student body wore pink Friday night at its homecoming in honor of McIntosh. Lowell responded in support as its visiting bleachers were a sea of pink.
“It’s special that the kids wanted to do it,” an emotional Stuursma said. “It was a class act by our students and the same for Lowell’s students.”