Leaving two would-be tacklers behind, the Trojans’ Austin Snell gets set to dodge another one in second quarter action vs. Gogebic on Nov. 1. This 6-yard gain led to a 13-yard TD pass from Jeff Johnson to Snell just before halftime.
CRYSTAL FALLS—It sure wasn’t easy. Forest Park’s football players probably woke last Saturday morning with aches and pains, souvenirs of a bruising battle the night before.
But it paid off in the end, as the Trojans finally subdued a gritty Gogebic team 30-16 here Nov. 1 in a Division 8 pre-district game. The Trojans will host L’Anse on Nov. 8 (6 p.m. kickoff) for the district title.
Talented and tough: That’s describes Gogebic, whom the Trojans defeated 38-20 in week 8 of the regular season. This time, Forest Park never trailed but never could breathe easy until the final minutes.
The Miners cut FP’s lead to 22-16 early in the second half and stayed within a touchdown well into the fourth quarter, threatening to take the lead several times.
“Gogebic wouldn’t go away,” said Coach Bill Santilli, “nor could we put them away. It was a very tense, close game for most of the second half.”
While the Trojans stayed in front, let’s make this point clear: Both teams made big plays. Both also made mistakes. Bottom line: Gogebic wasn’t far from pulling off the upset.
“We had moments when I felt that we were self-destructing,” the coach said. “Yet we were able to overcome.”
Forest Park gained 38 yards on its first three plays of the game—all Lee Graff runs around the left. But at their 24, the Miners suddenly became brick walls and got the ball back on downs. When Connor Dalpra later recovered a fumble at the Miners 16, Gogebic didn’t let FP get any closer and won the ball back again. Later, Forest Park got to the Miners 15—but Ben Zielinski’s interception ended that.
That’s how it was in the first quarter: all defense. But on FP’s second play of the second quarter, Snell burst through the right side, found a gap and dashed 62 yards for a score. The convert failed, but FP led 6-0.
Thirty-nine seconds later, the Trojans scored again, and Snell was in the midst of it. He intercepted Gogebic’s first down pass and ran it back to the Miners 36. Two plays later, Graff dashed around the right side and down the sideline for a 40-yard TD. He added the two-pointer for a 14-0 lead.
With five minutes till halftime, Gogebic struck back. Facing 2nd and 28 at the Miners 25, QB Zielinski passed to Jess Mazzon down the middle for a 75-yard TD. A pass to Collin Gagnon cut FP’s lead to 14-8.
FP had two more good chances to score before halftime. The first came when Snell broke away for an apparent 55-yard TD run—but an illegal shift penalty negated it. Later, Connor Kezerle intercepted a pass, giving FP a first down at the Miners 35 with 1:52 left. On first down, QB Jeff Johnson’s passed to Snell for an apparent score. But no! Another illegal shift!
This time, though, the Trojans eventually got the score on a Johnson-Snell 13-yard TD pass on third down with 14 seconds left. A two-point pass to Kevin Nocerini put FP ahead 22-8 at halftime.
Knowing Gogebic would get the second half kickoff, Trojan coaches stressed at halftime how important it was to make the defensive stop. “We didn’t do it,” Santilli said. Gogebic covered 70 yards on eight plays, scoring on Zielinski’s 15-yard pass to Lane, who was wide open. A pass to Mazzon cut FP’s lead to 22-16 with 7:54 left in the third quarter.
That’s how it stayed for the longest time. Drive after drive looked promising but fizzled. A 30-yard pass to Graff earned first down at the Miners 19—Gogebic’s defense made the stop. A short punt gave FP the ball near midfield, but a third down interception snuffed out that threat.
With the Miners’ ground game largely ineffective (less than a year per carry), Zielinski threw the ball on nearly every play, and the Trojans’ six-point lead looked shaky. Who would make the big play?
It was Graff. Early in the fourth quarter, on 3rd and 1 at the Trojan 40, Graff took a handoff and charged 32 yards to the Gogebic 28. Johnson’s keeper and two Graff runs led to 2nd and 6 at the Miners 13: Graff got the handoff, went around the left and leaped over a Miner tackler near the goal line to score with 6:54 left. Johnson’s two-pointer made it a 30-16 lead.
The Miners quickly got in great field position, as Gagnon ran back the kickoff to the Trojan 33, but Nocerini’s third-down sack of Zielinski followed by Graff’s interception a play later ended Gogebic’s last threat.
Santilli talked about a series of mistakes that hurt the Trojans all night: two touchdowns wiped out by illegal shift penalties; missed blocks that led to Johnson getting sacked or rushed into bad passes; blown coverage on Gogebic pass plays.
“Normally in the playoffs,” he went on, “if you make that many mistakes, you’re going home.
“We were very fortunate we could play through all the mistakes we made and have another chance to redeem ourselves. That’s the bottom line.”
Team stats: Forest Park, 312 total yards (45-258 rushing, 3-17-54 passing); Gogebic, 271 yards (23-13 rushing, 258 passing). First downs: FP 8, Gogebic 5.
Individual stats: Rushing, Lee Graff, 27-168; Austin Snell, 8-75; Jeff Johnson, 8-13. Passing: Johnson, 3-16-54, 1 TD; Graff, 0-1-0. Receiving: Graff, 1-30; Snell, 2-24. Gogebic receiving: Jess Mazzon, 5-106; Kevin Lane, 6-104; Collin Gagnon, 1-48.
Defense (tackles-assists): Graff, 9-4; Billy Ragio, 6-1; Raymond Tomasik, 4-5; Daniel Nocerini, 4-4. Sack: Nocerini. Fumble recovery: Connor Dalpra. Interceptions: Snell, Connor Kezerle, Graff. Hurries: Dalpra 2.
• The Division 8 district title will be decided at Dick Mettlach Field on Nov. 8 when the Trojans take on L’Anse. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
L’Anse defeated Lake Linden 52-34 in its pre-district game Nov. 1. Last year, the Purple Hornets ended the Trojans’ season 34-28 in a pre-district game. FP beat L’Anse 32-0 in the 2007 playoffs.
L’Anse went 7-2 this season. Their only losses were to West Iron (27-14) and Munising (17-10), both playoff teams.
Trivia: L’Anse was the opponent in Forest Park’s last scoreless tie. The teams played to a 0-0 standoff in 1991.
Miners 0 8 8 0 -- 16
Trojans 0 22 0 8 -- 30