L'ANSE - The Hancock football team threw everything they had at L'Anse Friday night in a spirited attempt to hand the Purple Hornets their first loss of the season. An A-plus running game, successful gadget plays and ferocious line play on both ends were a credit to the Bulldogs all game.
It still wasn't enough.
L'Anse overcame three separate deficits to record a 36-26 victory in what says more about the capabilities of the purple squad than anything negative on the Bulldogs side.
L’Anse running back Jimmy Veker meets the Hancock tandem of Jordan LaTendresse and Brett Knaus in a first-quarter running play Friday. Veker ran for 63 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 60 yards. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Junior Jimmy Veker did his best Paul Hornung impression for L'Anse, running for 63 yards, catching two passes while lined up outside for 60 yards and a touchdown, completing a 30-yard pass and picking off Hancock quarterback Tanner Kearly for the game sealing interception. L'Anse didn't take the lead for good until senior fullback Cody Goldsworthy blasted in for a two-yard touchdown with less than four minutes remaining to cap an eight play drive that needed a fourth-and-10 conversion to survive.
Goldsworthy added another touchdown two minutes later after Veker's interception to give the game a more lopsided score than the play of Hancock merited.
"I am proud of my kids. We had chances to give up in this game and we never did," L'Anse coach Mark Leaf said.
Hancock 7 7 6 6 - 26
L'Anse 8 8 6 14 - 36
LAN - Brandon Kemppainen 49 yard pass from Jacob Ostermeyer (Jimmy Veker run), 8:25
HAN - Brett Knaus 1 yard run (Brian Kass kick), 2:52
HAN - Shane Raasio 60 yard pass from Tanner Kearly (Kass kick), 9:06
LAN - Veker 25 yard pass from Ostermeyer (Kemppainen run), 0:15
HAN - Ross Michaels 5 yard run (pass fail), 4:44
LAN - Kemppainen 90 yard kick return (pass fail), 4:26
HAN - Raasio 41 yard run (run fail), 11:33
LAN - Cody Goldsworthy 2 yard run (Veker run), 3:15
LAN - Goldsworthy 6 yard run (run fail), 0:52
Total offense - Hancock 311 (216 rush, 95 pass); L'Anse 304 (159 rush, 145 pass). Rushing - Hancock, Michaels 21-143-1; L'Anse, Goldsworthy 21-87-2. Passing - Hancock, Kearly 2-9-0 95 yards; L'Anse, Ostermeyer 6-9-2 145 yards. Receiving - Hancock, Raasio, 2-63-1; L'Anse, Veker, 2-60-1.
"That was good for us to get that kind of contest. The first couple of games have been lopsided and its good for us to be in a complete ball game and find a way to win the game rather than blowing somebody out."
"Man, we are right there. We just can't get over that hump," Hancock coach Matt Walter said. "I don't understand it. We make mental errors and that crushes us. ... We cannot do that, especially against a team like L'Anse."
Each time L'Anse seemed to be slipping, a big play brought them back into focus.
Down by six with just 35 seconds left in the first half and 55 yards to go, Leaf went to his do-it-all running back rather than kneel out the quarter. Veker struck for 30 yards against an unsuspecting Hancock defense on a play set up to look like a sweep, that was really a halfback-pass to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Kemppainen.
"We kind of pulled it out of our back pocket. We have always had it, we just haven't had to use it this year," Leaf said. "
Veker then finished the drive off two plays later with a jump-ball touchdown over the shorter Hancock defensive back on a lofted throw from L'Anse quarterback Jacob Ostermeyer.
"We like to pass those (jump balls) a lot. Jacob (Ostermeyer) puts it up there and I just try to make a play," Veker said. "He did a real nice job throwing it tonight."
Kemppainen gave his team the lift next, making sure Hancock's four-point third quarter lead - from an eight-play drive that featured senior running back Ross Michaels six times - only lasted for roughly 18 seconds of game clock.
The sophomore wideout caught a line drive kick off at full speed on the 10 yard line, broke three tackles in a scrum around the 25, then dashed off untouched down the sideline with his teammates and coaches collectively gasping, then screaming in unison.
"Our sophomore came up with some huge plays for us that really swung the momentum in our favor," Leaf said of Kemppainen, who also caught a 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter. "For a sophomore he has really grown up in the last couple weeks."
To the playmaking of Veker and Kemppainen, Hancock countered with senior running back Ross Michaels.
The diminutive workhorse compiled 143 yards on 21 rushes and a touchdown - plus an interception on defense - and the constant threat of him on the ground opened the game up for Hancock's other athletes.
Senior wide receiver Shane Raasio caught a 60-yard playaction bomb from Kearly in the second quarter to give Hancock their first lead of the game. Raasio then struck again in the fourth quarter on a reverse with Michaels, going 41 yards to the endzone because the purple defenders were so geared up to stop the Bulldog running back.
"Ross Michaels, is one of the best backs in the Copper Country," Walter said. "The way he ran and the way he cut, I'm telling you right now that is huge for us.
"The first three games he was so impatient, we told him to just wait for his blocks. ... so when he cuts back and can juke, he is unstoppable."
While L'Anse rushed for 159 yards total, it took them 42 attempts to do so, a much lower average (3.7 yards per carry) than in previous games. But they countered with an effective playaction passing attack - the first time they have had to do so this season.
Ostermeyer completed six of nine passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, while Veker added his own 30-yard completion.
"We knew coming in that we could throw the ball if we have to, we just haven't had to show it yet," Leaf said. "They contained our running game a bit so we had to today. Jacob Ostermeyer stepped up and really made some nice throws."
"Our defense was basically stopping the run, but the pass killed us," Walter added. "Our corners and safeties need to step up.
"I am surprised how well (they passed it), but Veker is a heck of a player. And though I am surprised that they threw the ball, but when we were stopping the run, what else were they going to do? We just needed to step up."