With Zach Hautala (76) helping clear his way, Forest Park’s Jacob Siler runs for a big gain during the Trojans’ win at Lake Linden on Oct. 22. Both Siler and Hautala have been named to the all-U.P. all-class football team.
CRYSTAL FALLS—Ninety-three combined points. Nine hundred fifteen combined yards on offense. An exhausting battle for playoff survival on a wet, cold night.
But the playoff-proven Forest Park Trojans never lost the lead against Stephenson and ended the night with a memorable 50-43 win in their Division 8 district semifinal game here Oct. 28.
They will visit North Dickinson Nov. 4 for the district title game. Both teams are 9-1 for the year.
FP fans and coaches are hoping running back Jacob Siler will be ready for another big night. The Trojans’ warhorse ran for six touchdowns and 378 yards against the Eagles. Besides that, he also ran all over on pass coverage against an opponent that threw for over 200 yards.
“I’m surprised he was standing at the end of the night,” Coach Bill Santilli said. “The kid was dead tired. I’m just glad he was able to hold up.”
Of the 93 points, 46 were scored in the first quarter--40 in the last 4:33. Siler started the scoring with a 78-yard TD run; 6-0, 8:21 left. He scored again on a 46-yard run and ran in the conversion; 14-0, 4:33 left.
Then it got crazy. The Eagles’ Nolan Lukasik scored on a 71-yard run, and Kane Rasner kicked the extra point; 14-7, 3:24 left. Siler, another 78-yard TD run; 20-7, 3:08 left. Stephenson’s Rasner, a 60-yard pass from QB Austin Grinsteiner, plus the kick; 20-14, 2:18 left. Siler, a 54-yard run; 26-14, 1:24 left. Finally, Siler’s fifth TD, a four-yard run; 32-14, 27 seconds left. A frantic first quarter.
Santilli: “I told the two field maintenance guys after the game that I thought they would were going to have to change bulbs [on the scoreboard] at halftime. It was just incredible!”
How did Siler score so often? The Eagles played aggressive defense, putting many players near the line. FP’s linemen made their blocks, and one was usually able to get downfield to fend off the last opponent.
“Siler was running really well when he was fresh,” his coach said. “He just outran the whole pack on every one of those. Nothing fancy. He was just going north and south.”
Light rain that fell during the first quarter picked up in the second, and the scoring pace finally slowed. Sawyer Grinsteiner scored on a three-yard run, and Rasner’s kick cut the lead to 32-21 with 2:39 left. FP came back, and Siler scored his sixth from the 1 with 30 seconds left. FP led 38-21 at halftime.
The teams traded TDs in the third quarter. FP’s Dennis Mongar scored on a 25-yard run (44-21), but Sawyer Grinsteiner got it back on a two-yard run--FP still led 44-28 as the fourth quarter began.
The Eagles got closer on Austin G’s seven-yard TD pass to Rasner; they also connected on the two-pointer, cutting the lead to 44-36 with 10:26 left. Then the Trojans’ Jed Mongar took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 95 yards for still another TD. Trojans, 50-36, 10:08 left. But after a 50-yard Lukasik run, Austin G and Rasner connected again for a 30-yard score. Rasner’s kick made it 50-43--a one-possession game with 8:37 left.
Earlier a touchdown fest, the game now turned into a chess match. Late in the fourth quarter, a 41-yard Eagles punt was downed at the Trojan 7. FP soon had to punt from its 15. It only went 12 yards! Eagles ball on the Trojan 27 with 1:21 to play.
Three runs got the Eagles a first down at the Trojan 14. Incomplete pass. A six-yard run. Third and 4 at the 8. Eagles’ time-out. Then, a pass into the end zone off a fake--intercepted by FP’s Derek Aberly, who was tackled just outside the goal line with 1:02 left.
First and 10 for FP at their own one-foot line: QB Michael Smithson followed his linemen to the 1, burying himself deep in the pile. Final Eagles time-out. Smithson kept it again, disappearing in the pile at the 2. Tick, tick, tick. Stephenson can’t stop the clock. Kneeldown. All zeroes. Game over!
“Smithson did a good job of clock management,” Santilli pointed out, “snapping the ball at the very last second and diving into the pile, to make the officials come in to get the ball to spot it while the clock was running. When they unpiled, we were able to click off 10, 12 extra seconds.”
Numbers: FP, 445 total yards (46 carries, 437 yards); Eagles, 470 yards (44 carries, 264 yards). Eagles had a big edge in first downs, 15-6.
Siler ended with 33 carries for 378 yards and six TDs. Is that a school record? “We’ve had guys who have topped 300,” Santilli answered. “But I can’t remember anyone topping the 350 mark.”
For the Eagles, Grinsteiner completed 11 of 23 for 206 yards with three interceptions. Lukasik ran 26 times for 198, and Rasner caught nine catches for 197 yards and three TDs. “Their quarterback-receiver combination was incredible,” Santilli said, “especially considering the weather.”
Tyler Lovato led tacklers (eight and two assists), followed by Matthew Sawyer (7-1), Jed Mongar and Zach Hautala (both 5-2) and Jake Divine (6-1). Interceptions: Cole Noblet, Divine and Aberly. Sacks: Jed Mongar, twice. Nine tackles for loss.
FP also had 224 “all-purpose” yards—highlighted by Jed Mongar’s 95-yard kick return for a score. He had 207 AP yards all by himself.
It was exhausting for everybody—players, coaches, maybe even the spectators. . “Just a mentally challenging game.” Concerns: The Trojans had troubles catching passes, and they only were 1 of 8 on conversions.
Also, Stephenson kept the momentum for most of the second half. “Fortunately, we hung on to play for another week. It was a game that could have gone either way.”
Forest Park dodged one? “We did. We really did.”
• While the Trojans and Eagles beat each other up and tried to short out the scoreboard, North Dickinson rolled over Ontonagon 48-6 in the other western U.P. District 8 district semifinal. The Nordics will host Forest Park on Nov. 4 for the district title. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
The Trojans defeated ND 30-16 in their regular season game, but the Nordics had to play without star running back Dominic Christian, who was ill. He’s back in action now, and ND is a different team with Christian playing.
ND defeated three other playoff schools this season: Florence, Munising and Stephenson. The Trojans last lost to ND during the 2006 season. Their last loss to the Nordics in the playoffs was back in 1999. Since then, they have ended the Nordics’ season four times.
Eagles 14 7 7 15 -- 43
Trojans 32 6 6 6 -- 50