L'ANSE - Northland Pines has been getting progressively stronger, and Friday night the Eagles capped off a perfect 8-0 season and claimed an outright WestPAC championship with an all-out assault of L'Anse during Purple Hornet Homecoming.
NP built a remarkable 55-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 68-24 win over the previously 6-1 Purple Hornets, who could have earned a share of the league title with a win.
"We're conference champs. It's been a goal of ours since Aug. 7. It's something we've worked hard for," Eagles coach Eric Swanson said. "It's just a special season. It's something the kids deserve."
Northland Pines defensive back Tanner Perry breaks up a Jacob Ostermeyer pass intended for L’Anse’s Jimmy Veker in the second half of the Eagles’ 68-24 WestPAC win over the Purple Hornets. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
And the way Northland Pines earned the win may surprise some people.
University of Wisconsin-Madison-bound Austin Ramesh racked up 177 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries, which is pretty typical, but it was the Eagles passing attack that got the ball rolling for the visitors.
In fact, after a L'Anse game-opening three-and-out, NP quarterback Cooper Kerner connected with Ramesh on a 40-yard touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage.
Northland Pines 23 32 7 6 - 68
L'Anse 0 0 8 16 - 24
NP - Austin Ramesh 40-yard pass from Cooper Kerner (Ramesh run), 10:13
NP - Lance Bontrager 49-yard run (Tavish Perry pass from Kerner), 6:40
NP - Sam Lacko 27-yard pass from Kerner (Alex Kornely kick), 2:17
NP - Ramesh 5-yard run (kick no good), 11:18
NP - Ramesh 31-yard pass from Kerner (kick no good), 7:18
NP - Tanner Perry 7-yard pass from Kerner (Kornely kick), 6:16
NP - Ramesh 51-yard run (kick no good), 5:12
NP - Bontrager 12-yard run (Kornely kick), 1:14
NP - Adam Kresl 15-yard run (Marcus Clure kick), 9:05
LA - Cody Goldsworthy 4-yard run (Jimmy Veker pass from Jacob Ostermeyer), 2:28
LA - Goldsworthy 1-yard run (Veker run), 8:07
NP - Bontrager 14-yard run (kick no good), 5:17
LA - Goldsworthy 10-yard run (Veker run), 0:05
First downs - Northland Pines 14, L'Anse 15; Total offense - NP 606 (385 rushing, 221 passing), LAN 278 (236 rushing, 42 passing); Rushing - NP, Ramesh 8-177, 2 TD; Bontrager 8-124, 3 TD; Kresl 7-72, 1 TD; Lacko 2-11; Tavish Perry 1-1; LAN, Goldsworthy 20-159, 3 TD; Veker 10-69; Brandon Kemppainen 8-15; Ostermeyer 2-(-7); Passing - NP, Kerner 8-10-221, 4 TD; LAN, Ostermeyer 6-12-42, 1 INT; Veker 0-1; Receiving - NP, Ramesh 3-91, 2 TD; Lacko 2-90, 1 TD; Tanner Perry 2-37, 1 TD; Tavish Perry 1-3; LAN, Jonny Magaraggia 3-27; Kemppainen 3-15.
Kerner completed 8 of 10 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the game, with Ramesh collecting three passes for 91 yards and two more touchdowns.
"They came out throwing the ball, which kind of caught us off guard a little bit," L'Anse coach Mark Leaf admitted. "They're a very good football team and the game got away from us early, kind of snowballed and things came apart on us. They're a very explosive offense as you've seen tonight. They can really spread the ball around."
In addition to Ramesh's production, running back Lance Bontrager lugged the ball eight times for 124 yards and three touchdowns, with Adam Kresl contributing another seven carries, 72 yards and a touchdown. Altogether, Northland Pines outgained L'Anse 606-278 yards - 511-115 in the first half.
"We wanted to come out and play our type of football, which is power, but with the added dimension of passing. We worked on it, and worked on it and worked on it all year long and it's developed into a very potent part of our offense," Swanson said. "It all came together tonight."
Poor tackling certainly didn't help the hosts, and Eagles backs shredded tacklers left and right, converting eight of their 10 touchdowns from 10 or more yards out: Ramesh's 40-yarder, a Bontrager 49-yard run and a 27-yard pass in the Eagles' 23-0 first quarter; a 31-yard Ramesh reception, 51-yard Ramesh run and 12-yard Bontrager run as part of their 32-0 second quarter; plus a 15-yard Adam Kresl third-quarter touchdown run and a Bontrager 14-yard fourth quarter score.
"We didn't tackle very well, but their backs had something to do with that, too," Leaf said. "There's a reason Ramesh is a Division I football player, and not only him. ... They have three good backs and their quarterback threw the ball well."
The second half was in running time for the entire 24 minutes, but to its credit, L'Anse didn't throw in the towel.
Purple Hornet senior Cody Goldsworthy quietly rushed for 159 yards and yet another three-touchdown performance.
"We had to try playing catch up and that's not our game," Leaf said. "We're more of a ball control team. But we never quit. We kept battling in the second half and hopefully we can carry some momentum into next week against Munising."
The Purple Hornets wrap up the regular season at home against the Mustangs before gearing up for the playoffs. Northland Pines will be in the Wisconsin playoffs next weekend.