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South Haven snaps 29-game losing streak in win over Niles

NILES — The Niles football team was ready.

After losing to Berrien Spring last week in its season opener, the Vikings entered Friday’s game against South Haven expecting to win in front of their home crowd. After all, the last time the Rams won a game, Barack Obama was still the president of the United States. A win was all but inevitable.

Until it was not.

South Haven, winless in its previous 29 games, emerged victorious against the Vikings with a 34-20 win.

It was the Rams’ first ‘W’ in the win column since a forfeit win over Vicksburg on Oct. 14, 2016. The last time South Haven had won a game on the field was a 30-25 win over Otsego Sept. 16, 2016. The Rams’ last road win was against Sturgis, in a 32-7 victory on Aug. 25, 2016.

“I’m really happy,” said South Haven coach Mark Eddy. “Especially for the seniors. They’ve worked their tails off the last few weeks. We were really physical and I couldn’t be more proud of a physical football team. We played sound football last week but came up short. We played sound football tonight.”

“We didn’t play very well at all,” said Niles football coach Joe Sassano. “It was just a lack of focus and we just weren’t dialed in. As a coach, I have to take responsibility for that.”

Niles junior running back Colin Hess admitted that the Vikings underestimated South Haven after the Rams lost to Buchanan 24-6 last week.

“I think we came in with our mindset in the wrong spot,” Hess said. “We thought we would whoop them because Buchanan did, and we could follow right along with them, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t show up like we were supposed to, and that’s the problem right there. We were too cocky.”

Hess finished with three touchdown runs on offense and a team-high nine tackles on defense, including two for loss.

“He plays hard all the time,” Sassano said. “I mean, he plays offense, defense and special teams. He really gets after it. He’s a tough, gritty player.”

Nathan Baker added 31 rushing yards and Chase Andres had five tackles and one sack. True freshman quarterback Talon Brawley entered the game in the second half after Starting quarterback Jason Matlock left the game with an injury, and performed admirably. He converted 2-of-3 passes for 21 yards and kept plays alive using his feet, including running for a first down on a 4th-and-7 play.

“We gave him some plays and let him do his thing,” Sassano said. “Obviously, he’s got some talent and he’s going to be a player down the road.”

Trevor Till led South Haven with 112 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown and Trevor Winkle had 13 carries for 90 yards and one touchdown, while Ray Woodall added seven for 39 and one touchdown. Johnson had two catches for 37 yards and a touchdown pass and Trevor Johnson and Winkle each had eight tackles with two tackles for loss.

The Rams outgained the Vikings 241-106 in rushing yards.

“I just think our defense was tired. Our offense got going, eventually, but we were on our heels on defense. We weren’t making the plays we needed to make and we weren’t making the reads. I wasn’t making the reads on defense that I should have been, and I’ll take responsibility for that. Next week we’ve got some work to do at practice. We have some things to correct, and we’re gonna come back hard next week.”

Niles struck first with a 2-yard touchdown run from Hess late in the first quarter to take 6-0 lead. But the Rams responded with a 14-play, 69-yard drive capped by a 20-yard pass from Bodfish to Thomas to tie the game at six apiece heading into halftime.

The Rams started the second half with a 7-play, 70-yard scoring drive capped by an eight-yard touchdown run from Till and went up 14-6 following a two-point conversion. Less than a minute later, Matlock fumbled the ball in Niles territory and South Haven’s Nolan Sholes picked it up and returned it for a touchdown to give the Rams a 20-6 lead midway through the third quarter.

A Hess touchdown cut the deficit to 20-14 with under two minutes remaining in the third, but the Rams responded with fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Winkle and Woodall to effectively put the game out of reach.

Niles will be aiming for its first win of the season when it faces Benton Harbor (0-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.

“We just gotta take it one day at a time,” Sassano said. “We hope that we see some guys that have major improvements. These kids have got to want to work. They’ve gotta want to get better.”

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