EAGLE RIVER, Wis. - The Calumet Copper Kings opened their season with heartbreak for the second time in as many seasons.
John Puffer's fullback dive with 36 seconds to go put Northland Pines over Calumet 26-20 in both squads' WestPAC football openers Friday.
Calumet, playing from behind for much of the night, finally tied the game on Tyler Roland's third short touchdown run of the game with 7:18 to play, but the Eagles drove 75 yards down the field for what would be the winning touchdown to end a superbly played game in which neither team committed a turnover.
"When they needed big plays, their kids made big plays all game long and our kids left too many plays out on that field," Calumet coach John Croze said.
Eagle quarterback Cooper Kerner piloted the hosts to an early lead, running for the game's first touchdown from 10 yards out on fourth down in the middle of the second quarter, then adding a 64-yard touchdown pass to Sam Lacko on the next drive for a 14-0 lead.
Calumet pulled itself back into the game with a successful two-minute drill and Roland scored from 2 yards out with 30 seconds left in the half.
Calumet 0 6 6 8 - 20
N. Pines 0 14 6 6 - 26
NP - Cooper Kerner 10-yard run (kick good), 8:17
NP - Sam Lacko 64-yard pass from Kerner (kick good), 2:38
CAL - Tyler Roland, 2-yard run (run failed), :30
NP - Lance Bontrager, 12-yard run (run failed), 8:27
CAL - Roland, 1-yard run (run failed), 2:09
CAL - Roland, 1-yard run (Roland run), 7:18
NP - John Puffer, 2-yard run (run failed), :36
Total offense - NP 365 (185 rush, 180 pass), CAL 308 (268 rush, 40 pass); First downs - NP 16, Cal 18; Rushing - NP, Lacko 9-89, Bontrager 10-67; CAL, Roland 23-119, Chad Sturos 20-114, Paul Torola 8-32; Passing - NP, Kerner, 7-14-180 TD; CAL, Torola 2-12-40; Receiving - NP, Lacko 3-88, Ramesh 2-54; CAL, Tyler Vertin 1-24, Jake Pieti 1-16.
Calumet moved the ball in the first half, ending up with two 100-yard rushers, but had too many early drives bog down in Eagle territory.
"They got a jump on us. They got out two touchdowns on us, and that's after we were driving up and down the field," Croze said.
Pines scored again early in the third quarter, but Calumet came back to within a score on Roland's 1-yard dive with 2:09 left in the frame.
Midway through the fourth, Roland scored again from a yard out, then tacked on the two-point conversion to tie it up, but the Eagles would have the final say.
Roland had 119 yards on 23 carries and Chad Sturos ran for 114 on 20 attempts.
"I was real proud of how physical we were with them. I really thought we beat them up quite a bit," Croze said.
Kerner threw for 180 yards on 7-of-14 attempts. Lacko ran for 89 yards to pace the 2-0 Eagles, who are at Ontonagon next Friday.
Calumet (0-1) plays at Negaunee.
"We've got to have the confidence that we can step up and make the big play when it's time," Croze said.