NEGAUNEE - It was for all the marbles and members of the Negaunee High School football team picked them all up Friday night.
Behind two long fourth quarter touchdowns by Tyler LaJoie and a stout defense, the Miners clinched at least a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference title with a 20-8 win over visiting Ishpeming.
"It was like a 12-round heavyweight title match out there," Miners head coach Paul Jacobson said after his team improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the M-PC. "The kids gave a tremendous effort.
Negaunee’s Tyler LaJoie runs upfield as Ishpeming’s Noah Olgren attempts to make the tackle in the first half of a Mid-Peninsula Conference matchup in Negaunee on Friday. Negaunee prevailed 20-8 to remain undefeated and take control of the M-PC. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"Both sides of the ball, everyone stepped it up. The one thing that was the difference in the game, when we needed to, our seniors made plays."
So did LaJoie, a junior running back who saw extensive playing time when starter Adam Francis sprained an ankle on the opening kickoff.
LaJoie caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Uren at 11:51 of the final quarter and Ishpeming leading 8-6.
"I leaned forward and caught (the ball) on my fingertips," LaJoie recalled. "I got hit, but managed to stay up and in bounds."
He put the game on ice with 4:01 left by sprinting 71 yards down the right sideline for a score.
"I got a great block from (tackle) Nolan Bergstrom," said LaJoie, who finished with 116 yards rushing in 16 attempts. "He blocked one of (Ishpeming's) linebackers and I cut off that to the outside. I was gone from there."
Said Jacobson: "Ishpeming's defense is fast and aggressive. We thought we could get Tyler down the sideline."
LaJoie then capped his night with an interception with two minutes left off a pass that deflected into his hands.
"I feel amazing," he said. "We had the better defense (tonight). (Defensive lineman) Alex Dempsey was making all the plays."
Dempsey made several tackles, including two sacks.
"Their defense was tough," Hematites coach Jeff Olson said. "(The Miners) were more physical and Negaunee made some big plays."
The Miners took a 6-0 lead in the second quarter in a game where the scoreboard clock was out from late in the second quarter to midway through the fourth.
After a Negaunee time out on a fourth-and-4 at the Ishpeming 24, Uren faked a pitch to his right and hit a streaking Brock Weaver for a touchdown.
"We thought we had an opportunity with Brock on the edge," Jacobson said. "We wanted to put the ball in our seniors' hands, Uren and Weaver."
The Hematites (6-1, 4-1) took the lead just 48 seconds into the third quarter when linebacker Eric Kostreva - who rushed for 111 yards in 25 carries as a running back - scooped up a Negaunee fumble and ran 17 yards for a TD.
He ran for a two-point conversion for an 8-6 Hematite lead that held up until LaJoie's two scores in the final quarter.
"The key was we were able to come back," Jacobson said. "The defense responded and we kept plugging away on offense."
Ishpeming got interceptions from Kostreva and Bobby Zhulkie in the first half, but also saw the Miners stop them three times on fourth down offensive plays.
"What we got, we earned," Jacobson said.
Both teams play one more league game, with Ishpeming at Gwinn and Negaunee at home against Westwood, both on Oct. 18.
Ishpeming, which was ranked No. 1 in the U.P.'s Big Five poll this week and No. 3 in the state in Division 7, can still clinch a share of the M-PC title with a win and Negaunee loss. The Miners were ranked No. 4 in the U.P. Big Five poll and No. 4 in the state in Division 6.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.