NEGAUNEE - For the second time this season, Negaunee needed a comeback to defeat Calumet.
On Friday night, however, the Miners caught up much more quickly to advance in the MHSAA Division 6 playoffs.
Negaunee spotted the Copper Kings six points on the game's opening kickoff, but took the lead for good in the middle of the second quarter for a 14-6 victory.
Negaunee's Tyler LaJoie (20) runs after taking a handoff from quarterback Tanner Uren (14) with blocking help from Adam Francis (2) during the third quarter of a Class C district championship game in Negaunee on Friday night. Negaunee won, 14-6. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
The Miners (10-1) remain at home for the third straight playoff game next weekend when they host downstate Shelby (9-2), a 26-0 winner at home over Maple City Glen Lake on Friday night.
The first time the Miners and Copper Kings played, on Aug. 30 in Calumet, Negaunee didn't take the lead for good until 2:15 was left in a 12-6 win with temperatures around 70 degrees.
On Friday with temperatures closer to 30 degrees and winds whipping 15 to 20 mph, Negaunee's defense was even better, not allowing a point for the final 47:45 of the game's 48 minutes.
Just as the fans settled back onto their snow-covered seats after the national anthem, the Miners' Michael Wilber booted the opening kickoff near the right sideline inside the Calumet 10-yard-line.
Senior back Brendan Jacques bobbled the ball and had to dig it out of the snow-covered field - the mark was apparent for the rest of the first quarter - and worked his way up the sideline until he broke free near midfield and sprinted past the final Negaunee defender for a 92-yard touchdown.
"We kept telling our kids, just keep playing the game," NHS coach Paul Jacobson said in the aftermath of the opening play.
"Both teams were very emotional coming out, like you'd expect in a playoff game. Once the emotion subsided, we wanted our guys to just execute offensively and defensively.
"Give Calumet credit on that kickoff. They set it up well and blocked it well."
Both sides said their defenses, not the cold or snow, contributed to Friday's low score.
"This game had two great defensive team going after each other," Calumet's John Croze said. "The field didn't affect the game much. I never saw anybody lose their footing and there weren't any fumbles because the ball slipped out of somebody's hands."
Jacobson relished the Christmas-like conditions.
"This is what U.P. playoff football should be like, shouldn't it?" he said. "Getting Negaunee and Calumet together like this, it should be snowy and windy and cold."
After Calumet's initial big play, the teams traded punts for the rest of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, the Copper Kings (7-4) drove deep into Negaunee territory.
Senior back Clark Kangas gained three yards up the middle on 4th-and-1 to move the ball to the Negaunee 6.
Then came a 15-yard chop-block penalty and a 12-yard sack of senior quarterback James Sturos to push the ball back to 35 and forced a punt.
"We had a great opportunity around the 5-yard-line that we let slip through our fingers," Croze said.
The sack was a two-man effort as senior Dusty Goupille flushed Sturos way back and fellow senior Adam Francis completed the tackle.
That seemed to inspire the Negaunee offense, which responded by marching 80 yards in eight plays, including four straight that netted first downs.
Junior Tyler LaJoie ended the drive with a 19-yard scoring run on a play that initially went for nothing until he stopped, found a hole and shed several tacklers on his way to the end zone.
He also caught the two-point conversion pass from senior QB Tanner Uren to put his side up 8-6.
"The blockers know to keep working and I'll try to find a hole to run through," said LaJoie, who credits 6-foot-7 wide receiver Brock Weaver for his upfield blocking, too.
LaJoie finished with 112 yards rushing on 27 carries, about half of his team's 240 total.
Negaunee needed less than six minutes of the third quarter to put up an insurance TD, also scored by LaJoie from two yards out. The drive included 23- and 14-yard keepers by Uren, but the two-point conversion failed, meaning Calumet could force overtime with one more score.
The Kings never got the chance, as every play from scrimmage after that was snapped in the Calumet end of the field, including back-to-back interceptions made by Francis and senior Andrew Katona in the game's waning minutes.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org