By TIM CLEVELAND
After starting the season 0-3, it would have been easy for Lakeview and Justin Journey to stop believing in their season.
That is not the way things played out, as the Bulldogs’ seniors — in particular inside linebacker Journey — refused to let their final campaign end that way.
Journey helped spearhead a comeback that resulted in seven consecutive wins that earned the seventh seed in Division IV, Region 11, and a date at Struthers (8-2) Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Journey, who was a freshman but not a member of the team the last time Lakeview made the playoffs in 2010. “There’s a great vibe around us. We’re all having fun and getting ready to go.”
Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky said Journey has stood out as a leader.
“Every single day he’s come to work,” Pavlansky said. “He was banged up during two-a-days but he’s gotten better every single day. He’s an example on the practice field and has been a tremendous example for all our kids.
“He’s a three-year starter for us. He’s one of our captains and a tremendous leader for us. He’s a leader on defense. He’s been an exceptional leader for us.”
After leading the Lakeview defense last season with 93 tackles, eight sacks and five tackles for loss, Journey was just about as good as a senior, with 82 tackles — with 10 for loss — a pair of sacks and an interception.
“The last seven for sure,” Pavlansky said of Journey’s best games. “He played really well at Champion to help us win that game over our rival (36-28 in Week 4). He led the defense against Girard in the fourth-quarter comeback we had (42-35 in Week 5).”
Journey said he’s not focused on the regular season, saying he may think about it in the future.
“In a few years, maybe I’ll look back and say that was a great game,” he said. “Right now I’m looking for the best for my team.”
After allowing an average of 33.3 points in the first three games of the season, Journey helped spearhead a defense that surrendered just 14.6 points over the final seven contests, including less than 10 over the final five.
“When we first started, we were growing together and we had a lot of young guys,” Journey said of the comeback from 0-3. “We’ve had a lot of people come a long way.
“Defensively, guys were still learning about each other. We started to get it and understand each other way better.”
Pavlansky said the Bulldogs didn’t change things up after the first three weeks. It was the seniors who led the way during the seven-game win streak.
“We’ve just been working hard,” he said. “We’ve been led by our senior class. There’s been exceptional leadership and they’ve been going about things the right way. Early on in the season they didn’t blink and just kept on working. They’ve stayed positive in the locker room and on the practice fields. We’ve been doing all we can to have the opportunity for success.”
This will be the second meeting this season against Struthers. Even though the Wildcats defeated Lakeview 35-14 in Week 2, the result is seemingly years ago compared to where the Bulldogs are now.
“Playing and being familiar with them is helpful,” Pavlansky said. “I’m not sure if that’s an advantage or not. They’re a very good football team. They’re very well coached. Their kids are talented. They play hard.”
“They’re a different team than they were,” Journey said of Struthers. “Both teams have grown tremendously. I don’t think there’s an advantage on either side.
“I’m really proud of ourselves and the fact we’re playing in Week 11. We’re not just happy to be here; we’re looking forward to the opportunity. We want to be the best team we can be.”