CRYSTAL FALLS—Just when the Gogebic Miners thought they could seize momentum early in their game at Forest Park Oct. 18, the Trojans stole it away.
Specifically, Austin Snell, who swiped the ball from a Miner running back and ran it back 96 yards for an early touchdown. The Trojans stayed in front the rest of the night, earning a 38-20 win in a possible Division 8 playoff preview at Dick Mettlach Field.
The win keeps Forest Park unbeaten, 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the Great Western Conference. They can win the conference crown at Lake Linden Oct. 26.
The Miners took the opening kickoff, and two plays later Trent Quade gained 45 yards to the Trojan 25. Paul Buerger’s 15-yard carry gave the Miners 1st and goal at the Trojan 8. The next play got to the 5. Then, on a chilly, drizzly night, lightning struck.
Quade took the handoff and attacked the right end. Snell met him at the 4, worked his arm inside and then dashed down the sideline—ball tucked in his arm—to the end zone, 96 yards away. Lee Graff’s two-point run put the Trojans ahead 8-0.
“Huge play,” said Coach Bill Santilli later. “A 12- to 16-point swing.” It was the Trojans’ second strip-TD return play this year. (Lee Graff did it in Bark River.) “I credit the guys—they play heads up.”
FP had a chance to score again after Graff recovered a fumble at the Miners 26, but Gogebic’s defense won the ball back on downs. A short punt gave FP another chance near midfield. Graff ran five straight times, the last a 13-yarder for a TD early in the second quarter. QB Connor Kezerle’s pass to Daniel Nocerini put FP ahead 16-0.
A smart team, Gogebic didn’t panic and got back into the game with an 80-yard scoring drive. Collin Gagnon ran 32 yards to the Trojan 4, and Buerger ran it over from the 2, cutting the lead to 16-6.
“They had a game plan that they stuck to,” Santilli said. “They knew what to do to attack us.”
The Trojans answered with a 62-yard scoring drive, featuring Snell’s 18-yard scamper and 13- and 11-yard Graff carries. Graff scored from the 4, and the Trojans led 24-6 at halftime.
The Miners tried to seize momentum back with an onside kick to start the second half—but the ball didn’t go far enough. Forest Park covered 46 yards, including a 12-yard Snell effort and Graff’s 24-yarder to the Miners 5. He scored on the next play, and a two-point pass to Billy Ragio put FP ahead 32-6.
Gogebic never knuckled under and battled back with a drive that reached the Trojan 15 before running out of gas. Then they forced a Trojan punt. On the next play, QB Ben Zielinski passed 42 yards to Gagnon for a TD. The third quarter ended with Quade scoring the two-pointer, slicing the lead to 32-14. But this was Forest Park’s night. Kezerle passed 46 yards to Ragio on the first play after the kickoff, and Graff later scored from the 1, for a 38-14 lead.
The Miners covered 63 yards against the Trojan reserves in the final minutes, scoring on Zielinski’s 23-yard pass to Kevin Lane.
Santilli said Kezerle had a good game at quarterback despite going 1 for 6 (with several dropped catches). It was his second start--but Gogebic is much tougher than Baraga.
“He knew he had to bring his A game,” Santilli said. “I credit him and the team for not putting the ball on the ground” despite a wet ball and many shotgun snaps.
“We played very well offensively last night. And defensively, we seemed to make plays when we really had to.”
Team stats: FP, 329 total yards (44-283 rushing, 1-6-46 passing); Gogebic, 347 total yards (43-253 rushing, 6-12-94 passing). First downs: FP 14, Gog 13.
Individual stats: Rushing, Lee Graff, 24-166; Austin Snell, 13-100; Adam Hilberg, 4-17. Passing: Connor Kezerle, 1-6-46. Receiving: Billy Ragio, 1-46. Goge