CRYSTAL FALLS—Lest we forget, there’s more than one Iron County football team that enters the playoff season with a perfect record.
Forest Park wrapped up its latest 9-0 season Oct. 26 at Lake Linden-Hubbell, where they blasted the playoff-bound Lakes in the second half, winning 35-0.
It was a monster game for Lee Graff, who ran for 241 yards on 15 carries, including four touchdowns. It was also a monster effort by the entire Trojan defense, who limited the Lakes to just 101 total yards and three first downs all afternoon.
The win clinches the Great Western Conference title for the Trojans—they end up 5-0, Hurley is 4-1, and the Lakes finish at 3-2.
Next up: the playoffs. The Trojans will host the Gogebic Miners on Friday, Nov. 1, at 6 p.m. at Dick Mettlach Field. That’s the same place where, on Oct. 18, the Trojans outhit the Miners in a 38-20 win.
At 5-4 for the season, the Lakes will visit 7-2 L’Anse in the other district semifinal. The two winners go head to head Nov. 7 for the district title.
Forest Park wanted to take care of business quickly in the regular season finale, but there were some detours along the way.
The Trojans look the opening kickoff and drove 70 yards for their first score. Austin Snell’s 32-yard gain on a pitch led to Lee Graff’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 lead.
Just before Graff scored, QB Jeff Johnson ran for 5 yards to the 1 and was hit hard in the thigh, just above the knee, when tackled. He finished the drive and toughed out FP’s next possession, but his leg was getting stiff, and Connor Kezerle took over at QB after that.
Kezerle was at the controls early in the second quarter when back-to-back-to-back big plays put the Trojans on the board again: a 28-yard pitch to Snell, to midfield; Graff’s 15-yard run; and Graff’s run through the right side for 35 yards and six points, making it 12-0.
After Lake Linden’s defense forced two Trojan turnovers, the Lakes reached into their bag of tricks with seconds left in the half and pulled out the rarely seen hook-and-ladder play.
Arthur Lyons threw a halfback option pass Lucas Klein, who immediately pitched a lateral to Cole Beauchamp. The play covered 40 yards and nearly worked—but Snell dashed downfield and tackled Beauchamp at the Trojan 1 as time ran out.
The Trojans took care of business after that. After stopping the Lakes on the opening drive, Graff took the first down handoff 55 yards for a touxhdown. He also ran in the convert, and FP led 20-0.
The Trojans had to punt on their next possession, and their next one didn’t seem promising, either. But on 3rd and 6 at midfield, QB Kezerle connected with Snell down the right side for a 51-yard score. Raymond Tomasik ran in the two-pointer, boosting the lead to 28-0.
The Trojan defense soon forced another Lakes punt, which backed Forest Park to its 20. On first down, Graff took a direct snap, followed Daniel Nocerini’s downfield block, turned on the jets and scored from 80 yards away. Paul Santi’s kick built the lead to 35-0, and the running clock sped the final minutes of the season along.
The Trojans’ defense set up the offense’s heroics. FP allowed the Lakes just three first downs all day, including that trick play that ended the first half.
“We were very pleased with how we controlled the line of scrimmage,” Coach Santilli said. “We blocked well. The kids really put forth a very good effort.”
Team stats: Forest Park, 422 total yards (38-361 rushing, 3-8-61 passing); Lake Linden, 101 total yards (30-43 rushing, 4-11-58 passing). First downs: FP 8, LLH 3.
Individual stats: Rushing: Lee Graff, 15-241, 4 TDs; Austin Snell, 12-109; Raymond Tomasik, 4-12. Passing: Jeff Johnson, 1-4-2; Connor Kezerle, 2-4-59, 1 TD. Receiving: Snell, 3-61, 1 TD.
Defense (tackles-assists): Daniel Nocerini, 7-0; Kezerle, 6-2; Graff, 5-3; Adam Hilberg, 5-3; Tomasik, 5-2. Interceptions: Billy Ragio, Snell. Fumble recovery: Michael Wagner. Sacks: Nocerini (3), Connor Dalpra.
• It’s the Trojans vs. the Gogebic Miners for the first time ever in playoffs! The teams have only met twice before: The Miners beat FP in the 2012 regular season, and Forest Park returned the favor this year.
The Miners, of course, are the former Bessemer Speedboys, now in a football co-op with Wakefield-Marenisco. The Trojans and Speedboys were rivals for many years, including the playoffs. Their most recent playoff battle was in 2003, when the Trojans won a first round game 45-22.
Gogebic finished 6-3 for the season, 2-3 in the GWC. The Miners’ nonconference wins were over Hancock, Rudyard, Washburn (Wis.) and Ironwood—a 35-16 win last Friday.
Trojans 6 6 8 15 -- 35
Lakes 0 0 0 0 -- 0