HOUGHTON - After two very different halves played by two very different teams, the result of the 60th Copper Bowl was very different from the last two years.
Houghton took back the Copper Bowl for the first time since 2009, pulling ahead just before halftime and holding on for a 29-14 victory at Alumni Field.
Houghton entered the game with less experience and fewer wins, but its youth movement emerged at the right time Friday. Sophomore Ben Collaer ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third, to another sophomore, Sam Bethancourt.
Several Houghton players, including Dyson Bastian (77), Ben Collaer (3)?and Elias Lilleskov (68)?celebrate after the final snap of the 60th Copper Bowl game at Alumni Field in Houghton. The Gremlins won, 29-14. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"We didn't have the best season, but we came out and finished strong, so we can try and build this program up again," Collaer said.
He ran for 92 yards on 22 carries and threw for 115 on 6-of-8 attempts. He struck the first blow, sprinting around the right side for a 54-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage, then delivered the knockout combination in the fourth quarter. He hit Bethancourt on a 37-yard fourth-down pass play to the Hancock 3-yard line inside the final two minutes, then finished it off with a touchdown run on the next snap.
"He's a good player, he's got good athletes around him, he's a good leader, but I think our senior leadership up front and around him makes it easy for him to just do his thing," Houghton coach Karl Borree said.
Hancock 14 0 0 0 - 14
Houghton 8 14 0 7 - 29
HOU - Ben Collaer, 54-yard run (Collaer run), 10:27
HAN - Ross Michaels, 49-yard pass from Troy Kinnunen (Brian Kass kick), 5:21
HAN - Michaels, 1-yard run (Kass kick), :06
HOU - Ryan LaBerge, 4-yard run (Collaer run), 6:20
HOU - Sam Bethancourt, 27-yard pass from Collaer (run failed), :34
HOU - Collaer, 3-yard run (LaBerge kick), 1:04
First downs - Hancock 8, Houghton 11; Total yards - Hancock 152 (50 rush, 102 pass); Houghton 233 (118 rush, 115 pass); Rushing - HAN, Riley Engman 4-15, Michaels 22-14, Troy Kinnunen 4-11, Carl Leukema 2-5, William Lucier 3-5; HOU, Collaer 22-92 2 TDs, Thomas Schmidt 8-23, Ryan LaBerge 7-6 TD, Noah Budd 3-(minus-3); Passing - HAN, Troy Kinnunen 5-6-98; Michaels 1-1-4; Tanner Kearly 0-1-0 1 INT; HOU, Collaer 6-8-115-1 TD; Receiving - HAN, Travis Wesa 4-49; Michaels 1-49 TD, Kinnunen 1-4; HOU, Bethancourt 2-64 TD, LaBerge 3-45, Seth Kaarto 1-6.
After Collaer's touchdown, Hancock controlled the majority of the first half under the direction of understudy quarterback Troy Kinnunen. The Bulldogs capped their first drive when Kinnunen tossed senior tailback Ross Michaels a screen. After gaining first-down yardage on the far sideline, Michaels cut parallel to the goal line, then headed for the end zone in the opposite corner for a 49-yard scoring play.
After Houghton turned it over two plays later, Hancock took the lead after a seven-play drive, six of which were runs by Michaels. The last, a 1-yard dive made it 14-8 on the last play of the first frame.
Houghton responded immediately, making plays in both the running and passing game. After Collaer, while being bear-hugged and face-masked, broke away to complete a 14-yard pass to Ryan LaBerge, he pitched to LaBerge for the go-ahead run from 5 yards out with 6:20 to go to half.
Seth Kaarto cut Hancock's next drive short with an interception, giving Houghton enough time to go to the air once again. On the ninth play of the drive, Collaer hit Bethancourt on a crossing patten to give Houghton a 22-14 halftime lead.
"They did a great job coming up and filling up the box and not letting us run the ball," Borree said. "They forced us to pass. I don't want to pass, but you have to take what the other team gives you. They dared us to pass and the kids executed when it counted and that was really how the game worked out."
The second half was almost entirely different.
Neither side threatened the opposition goal in the third quarter or much of the fourth. Michaels' longest run of the half was 4 yards, while Houghton punted the first three times it had the ball after the break.
As time ran short, Houghton finally delivered the knockout. Collaer piloted the Gremlins across midfield for the first time in the half, then on 4th-and-5 from the 40, Collaer found Bethancourt again on the left, and Bethancourt raced inside the Bulldog 5 before Collaer delivered the insurance touchdown.
"I was just happy I caught it. I knew I had to catch it. Great protection, and I was just happy we could get the first down and close out the game," Bethancourt said.
For Hancock, it was a bitter blow and one last time it couldn't get its defense off the field when it had to.
"It's just a responsibility thing. Everybody has a responsibility on defense and if one person doesn't do it, look what happens," Hancock coach Matt Walter said.
Walter said he put Kinnunen in at quarterback to increase running opportunities in the option game, but rushing opportunities of any sort were hard to come by for the Bulldogs, who had just 50 yards on the ground.
"We just didn't execute blocking at all. We game-planned for their defense and we just didn't block well at all," Walter said.
Kinnunen threw for 98 yards on 5-of-6 passing. Michaels was held to 14 yards on 22 carries. The Bulldogs finish the season 3-6 (1-5 WestPAC).
"They just came out and played tougher than us," Walter said. "Collaer's a great runner and we didn't do our responsibility, but you have to give credit to Houghton. They're a tough team and their record definitely doesn't show what they are."
Houghton finishes 2-7 (1-5 WestPAC). Borree and the Gremlins had a lot to be happy about Friday: a boisterous home crowd, solid coaching adjustments that worked, and most importantly, a lot of potent players coming back.
"(The win) helps the kids understand that, it's like anything else, you put in the hard work, you're willing to work, and then you have a better chance," he said.