Big smiles and high fives for the starters along the Forest Park bench, as the reserves finish out the final minutes of the Trojans’ 31-14 win at Hurley Sept. 13. Assistant Coach Dave Graff congratulates his starters, with Assistant Coach Gene Giuliani in back and QB Jeff Johnson on the left.
HURLEY—Key games are still to come—the unbeaten Gogebic Miners, for instance—but Forest Park’s football team got a big leg up in the battle for the Great Western Conference title Sept. 13 with a solid 31-14 win over Hurley.
Hurley has either won or tied for the GWC title the last three years. With the victory, Forest Park is now 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the GWC.
“Against the run, our young guys really stepped up tonight,” Coach Bill Santilli said after the game. “Our linebackers played well—we blitzed and tackled well.
“I’m really pleased with our overall performance. They executed to perfection against a quality team.” Unlike last year’s unbelievable one-point Trojan win at Forest Park, the Trojans outplayed Hurley this time and deserved this win.
The Midgets scored first on a four-play drive to start the game. QB James Sukanen passed to Jared Wendt for 38 yards to the Trojan 9, and Mitchell Maki scored from there.
Forest Park came back to score in nine plays. The big ones were Lee Graff’s 23-yard run, followed by QB Jeff Johnson’s 36-yard pass to Austin Snell. That gave FP a first down at the Hurley 11, and Raymond Tomasik scored on a 2-yard run. Brett Smithson’s kick put FP ahead 7-6.
The Trojan defense forced three-and-outs on Hurley’s next two possessions, and Forest Park scored each time: on Graff’s 1-yard run and Johnson’s 60-yard pass to Snell. Two-pointers from Snell and Graff put the Trojans ahead 23-6.
The TD pass to Snell came after his 71-yard punt return for a TD was wiped out by a penalty. “We still were able to hold our composure and put a long drive together.
“At that point, the guys realized if we stick to our gameplan, we have a chance to win.”
Down by three scores already, the Midgets tried to get one back before halftime. But after driving downfield and earning a first down at the FP 15, the ball came loose in the backfield, and FP’s Daniel Nocerini recovered.
The Trojans nearly got another TD as time wound down in the first half: Johnson passed to Daniel Nocerini for an apparent 82-yard score—but it was negated by a motion penalty, keeping the score 23-6 at halftime.
Instead, FP took the second half kickoff and marched 67 yards in 10 plays. The first nine plays were runs; the 10th was Johnson’s pass to Billy Ragio for a 15-yard TD. Graff’s run made it 31-6.
Hurley fought back with a drive deep into the Trojan end, but FP’s defense shut down a fourth down run at the FP 9. The Trojans took over, and Johnson’s keeper gained 25 yards to the Trojan 42.
But the ball came loose when Johnson was tackled, and the Midgets had it again with 9:34 left. Two plays later, Sukanen found Wendt for a 33-yard score. Mark Saari’s two-pointer cut the gap to 31-14.
The charged-up Hurley defense quickly forced a punt, and a 38-yard gain by Maki gave the Midgets a first down at the Trojan 28 with four minutes left.
Two plays later, on 3rd and 6 at the 24, the Trojan D chased Sukanen out of the pocket. He got a looping pass away, but Adam Hilberg leaped high for the interception, and Hurley never touched the ball again.
Santilli said Forest Park stuck with its game plan, and it worked. “We blocked, we hung on to our blocks, and we ran hard.” Credit the guys doing the hard work on the line: center Brett Smithson, guards Connor Dalpra and Steven Hallmann, tackles Hilberg and Kyle Soderberg and tight ends Nocerini and Ragio.
“They did a nice job of picking up the blitzing linebackers. Hurley set the house at us.”
Team stats: FP 345 total yards (44-220 rushing, 5-6-125 passing). Hurley 264 total yards (36-174 rushing, 5-11-90 passing). First downs: FP 12, Hurley 11.
Individual stats: Rushing: Lee Graff, 18-99; Jeff Johnson, 8-69; Raymond Tomasik, 12-42. Passing: Johnson, 5-6-125. Receiving: Snell, 2-96; Billy Ragio, 2-22.
Defense (tackles-assists): Graff, 7-7; Adam Hilberg, 6-4; Ragio, 7-0; Tomasik, 5-1. Sacks: Graff, Tomasik. Forced fumble: Daniel Nocerini-Graff. Fumble recoveries: Nocerini, Ragio. Interception: Hilberg.
• The Trojans’ challenge Sept. 20 is taking care of business at home against a winless Ontonagon squad. L’Anse rolled over the Gladiators 45-8 on Sept. 13.
Trojans 7 16 7 0 -- 31
Midgets 6 0 0 8 -- 14