NEGAUNEE - Maybe it wasn't a work of art, but the Negaunee High School football team was still happy to end its regular season with a shutout victory on Thursday evening.
The Miners put the clamps on visiting Westwood, 39-0, to clinch the outright title in the Mid-Peninsula Conference and likely earn a first-round home game in the upcoming MHSAA playoffs, almost assuredly in Division 6.
The Negaunee faithful will join fans from several hundred other schools around the state waiting for the Sunday Selection Show to be televised by cable channel Fox Sports Detroit at 6 p.m. Sunday. That show tells everyone who will make the playoffs - not an issue for the 8-1 Miners, who were a perfect 6-0 in the M-PC - and where they'll go to play next week.
Negaunee’s Tyler LaJoie runs down field as teammate Dustin Goupille blocks Westwood’s Luke Duquette during the first quarter of the regular season finale for both schools in Negaunee on Thursday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"Now we just have to see who we're going to play," NHS coach Paul Jacobson said.
On Thursday, the Miners made a few mistakes, several of the more glaring ones a failure to make any conversions on their first four touchdowns, plus a botched shotgun snap deep in Westwood territory that not only went for a 26-yard loss, but a turnover to the Patriots.
"We were able to rest some guys," Jacobson said, "and what I'm most pleased about is that it's a win.
"We've gone through 11 weeks of practices and games and it's good to have a game like this now. Everybody has some bumps and bruises at this time of the season."
Several of those bumps looked more severe, including the exit of senior quarterback Tanner Uren for the last four minutes of the first half because of a leg injury, the absence for the entire second half of junior workhorse running back Tyler LaJoie due to his back or ribs, and the early end to the night for senior back Adam Francis from what looked like an ankle injury.
However, Uren played the entire second half, and Jacobson said the other injuries weren't as bad as they looked.
"Those guys we held out just as a precautionary measure," the coach said.
Westwood coach Jon Beckman understands the injury issue as his team's season comes to an end at 3-6 overall and 1-5 in league.
"I had seven of my starters standing next to me on the sidelines tonight," Beckman said about season-ending injuries the Patriots have succumbed to the past few weeks.
What really shined for the Miners was their defense, which gave up 244 yards, but didn't allow the Patriots to penetrate closer than the Negaunee 18-yard line all game long.
"I thought we moved the ball well between the 20s, but we couldn't punch it in," Beckman said. "Part of that is because we've become predictable, a little stagnant. We just don't have the options any more on offense."
The Miners forced four straight first-half punts by Westwood. On two possessions that reached inside Negaunee territory - one each half - NHS senior defensive lineman Alex Dempsey recovered a Westwood fumble.
Finally, four other Patriot possessions in the second half ended either on an incomplete pass or QB sack.
"Our defense played great against the pass," Uren said.
After LaJoie rushed for more than 100 yards in the opening half and scored the game's first touchdown, senior Dusty Goupille took over down the stretch, finishing with a game-high 136 yards on 13 carries.
He also scored three TDs, two in the last three minutes of the first half and the other early in the fourth quarter.
Uren added two TDs of his own in the third quarter, one on a 5-yard run and the other a 32-yard pass to junior Zane Radloff, who was able to stop in the end zone, fall to his knees and scoop the ball up before it hit the ground.
For Westwood, senior Francois Montbrun led his offense with 85 yards rushing on 17 carries. Senior QB Nathan Clisch completed 8 of 22 passes for 97 yards while often under duress in the pocket.
The lopsided score allowed Jacobson the luxury of trying out a new "jumbo" formation with 6-foot-1, 240-pound Joe Beerman and 6-foot, 260-pound Jamie Collins as running backs.
The juniors who usually play at guard on the offensive line took their shot in the backfield for one play in the third quarter, and Beerman got the handoff and rumbled for seven yards straight through the Patriots' D-line.
"That was a new formation coach just tried out this week," Beerman said. "I always play the back for the scout team."
He explained that last week he played the part of top Marquette running back Alex Sherbinow when the Miners were preparing for the Redmen, so Jacobson knew what he is capable of as a runner.
"I didn't really expect to get to run it in a game," Beerman said.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.