LAKE LINDEN - If ever the Lake Linden-Hubbell High football team needed a big play, it was in the waning moments of Saturday's game against the Gogebic Miners.
The Miners had just scored a touchdown with 1:13 remaining to creep to within 22-20. And with a two-point PAT try forthcoming, overtime was a distinct possibility in the Great Western Conference clash.
But LL-H senior tackle Ryan Knoll decided it was time to step up - stuffing Gogebic fullback Paul Buerger well short of the goal line.
Lake Linden-Hubbell quarterback Mitchel Kumpula scrambles away from a Gogebic defender in the second half of Saturday's game at Warner Field. The Lakes scored a 22-20 win. (Paul Peterson photo)
"I came off the ball better than I had the whole game ... and the rest of our line did a real good job," said the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Knoll. "It feels good to be back on the winning side."
In handing the previously unbeaten Miners their first loss of the season, the Blue and Gold also kept their playoff hopes very much alive.
While never trailing in the contest, the Lakes had to battle their own mistakes to walk away with a much-needed victory.
Gogebic 0 0 0 20 - 20
LL-Hubbell 16 0 0 6 - 22
LL - Tyler Roose 6 run (Cole Beauchamp run)
LL - Roose 45 pass from Mitchel Kumpula (Beauchamp run)
GO - Jess Mazzon 9 run (Mazzon run)
LL - Roose 45 run (pass failed)
GO - Kevin Lane 26 pass from Ben Zielinski (Mazzon run)
GO - Paul Buerger 2 run (run failed)
First downs: GO 11, LL 9; Rushes/yards: GO 33-38; LL 38-246; Passing: GO (Lane) 13-19-1-170; LL (Kumpula) 2-3-0-88; Ind. Rushing: GO (Mazzon 11-38); LL Roose, 13-101; Beauchamp 15-98; Kumpula 5-28; Walli 2-23); Ind. receiving: GO (Mazzon 9-131; Lane 1-26); LL (Roose 145, Konrad Klein 1-43); Fumbles/lost: Go 4-2; LL 4-4; Penalties: GO 7-45; LL 8-70.
"We had problems with ball security," Lakes' coach Andy Crouch said of his team's four fumbles on a cool, windy day at Warner Field. "We've got to do a better job of hanging on to the ball, it's that simple. You can't give a team like Gogebic extra possessions."
A lost fumble at the Lake Linden 29 with under three minutes left to play presented the Miners with their chance to get even.
Up until then, a big day by LL-H tailback Tyler Roose seemed like it would be enough.
Roose tallied all three touchdowns by the winners, and amassed 146 yards of total offense on 101 yards rushing and 45 more on one pass reception.
Playing a near-flawless first quarter, the locals took advantage of a Gogebic fumble on its first play from scrimmage.
Needing just six plays to cover 33 yards, LL-H got on the board on a 6-yard run by Roose. Cole Beauchamp's PAT run made it 8-0.
The Lakes made it 16-0 later in the opening period, driving 60 yards. After converting a key first down near midfield, quarterback Mitchel Kumpula connected with Roose for a 45-yard touchdown strike. Beauchamp, who had a nice day himself with 98 yards in 15 carries, added the PAT run.
But after moving deep into Gogebic territory in the second quarter, the turnover bug bit the Lakes for the first time as they lost a fumble at the Gogebic 29.
Down by two scores the half, Gogebic coach Mark Mazzon knew his team was still in the game.
"We had to battle a pretty good team ... and some adversity," Mazzon noted. "But our kids hung in there and gave themselves a chance to win."
Gogebic mounted a serious threat in the third frame, driving to the Lakes' 10-yard line before fumbling the ball away.
Aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and 12-yard pass from quarterback Ben Zielinski to Jess Mazzon, the Miners moved to the Lakes' 6 late in the quarter.
Mazzon scored from 9 yards away on the first play of the final quarter and added the two-pointer with a run to make it 16-8.
After recovering an onside kick by the Miners near midfield, LL-H quickly took back momentum.
Roose broke loose two plays later and scooted 46 yards to paydirt to up the count to 22-8.
But Gogebic narrowed the margin to 22-16 midway through the final period when Zielinski found Kevin Lane with a 26-yard scoring strike. Mazzon added the PAT run.
The sturdy Lakes defense, led by Knoll and senior Charlie Heckel, was able to hold the invaders at bay after two more lost fumbles.
But the Miners cashed in after the final miscue, Buerger plunging in from two yards out.
Then came the big play from Knoll and his teammates, and all that remained was to run out the clock after an unsuccessful onside kick by the Miners.
"Our defensive line played well on that last play," Crouch noted. "We had a lot of gold helmets around the ball. Obviously, it was a huge play."
The Lakes defense, which lost standout end Konrad Klein to an injury in the second half, limited the Miners to 38 rushing yards in 33 tries on the day.
Gogebic did manage 170 yards in the air, Mazzon snagging nine passes for 131 yards.
Crouch, whose 2-2 squad travels to Ontonagon on Friday, said he probably would have preferred a less dramatic ending.
"It's still a win and it gave our kids a great experience of beating a good team with our backs against the wall. My hats are off to them, they responded well today."
The 3-1 Miners go to Hurley on Friday evening.
"In this league, it doesn't get any easier," Mazzon said. "Today, it was Lake Linden, next week it's Hurley."