LAKE LINDEN - Houghton's first double-overtime win this season, vs. Westwood in Week 2, was a beginning. Its second double-overtime win, Saturday over Lake Linden-Hubbell, may be an opening.
At 4-3 overall after they defeated the Lakes 32-26, the Gremlins are firmly within what is unusual territory for them: the playoff hunt.
"The players are learning if they compete hard, they have an opportunity to win every game," Houghton coach Karl Borree said.
Houghton players celebrate after stopping Lake Linden-Hubbell on fourth down in double overtime to win their game Saturday at Warner Athletic Field in Lake Linden. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
When it was on the line, the Gremlins stopped the Lakes' power rushing game enough times in key situations: two two-point conversions in the first half and a third in the first overtime, and three straight plays from the 6-yard line and in to preserve the victory in double OT.
"We expected Lake Linden to play Lake Linden football and pound it. We just tried to line up right and do what we were coached to do," Houghton's Ben Collaer said.
The junior played a starring role in Houghton's offense, running for two touchdowns, throwing for two touchdowns and handling the ball as passer or rusher on 47 plays. After Tyler Roose gave LL-H the lead on the first possession of overtime, Houghton had its chance to score from the 10 and Collaer carried the ball four straight times, including on a critical fourth down from the 1.
Houghton 14 0 0 6 6 6 - 32
LL-Hubbell 0 20 0 0 6 0 - 26
HOU - Tristan Foltz, 70-yard pass from Ben Collaer (run failed), 6:53
HOU - Collaer, 3-yard run (Collaer run), :50
LLH - Tylor Rickard, 1-yard run (Tyler Roose run), 9:06
LLH - Konrad Klein, 11-yard pass from Mitchel Kumpula (run failed), 2:46
LLH - Rickard, 2-yard run (run failed), 1:35
HOU - Justin Ruotsala, 4-yard pass from Collaer (run failed), 10:23
LLH - Roose, 2-yard run (run failed)
HOU - Collaer, 1-yard run (pass failed)
HOU - Thomas Schmidt, 10-yard run (run failed)
Total offense: Houghton 308 (103 run, 205 pass), LLH 236 (175 run, 61 pass); Rushing - HOU, Collaer 30-69 2 TDs, Schmidt 13-34 1 TD; LLH, Roose 18-85 1 TD, Rickard 13-44 2 TDs; Passing - HOU, Collaer 9-17-205 1 TD 1 INT; LLH, Kumpula 3-14-52 1 TD; Ongie 1-1-9; Receiving - HOU, Foltz 2-105, Sam Bethancourt 5-78, Jonathan Bostwick 1-18, Ruotsala 1-4 1 TD; LLH, Roose 1-25, Ongie 1-16, Klein 1-11 1 TD, Nic Walli 1-9.
Houghton possessed first in the second OT and went a different route, a sprint to the left edge by Thomas Schmidt on first down. He gained the corner and the go-ahead score.
Roose gained four yards on the Lakes' first play of double OT, but he was stopped for minimal gain on the next two plays and quarterback Mitchel Kumpula found no room to run on a bootleg to the right on fourth down.
It was a bitterly disappointing result for the Lakes (4-3), whose playoff road got significantly more difficult. Though the value of their wins helps their playoff point average, it won't matter if they can't win one of their last two assignments against U.P. small-school titans North Dickinson or Forest Park.
"Houghton played better. We made too many mistakes," LL-H coach Andy Crouch said. "We were fortunate to be in the game with the mistakes we made."
Houghton had control of the game early after scoring on back-to-back first-quarter possessions. Tristan Foltz outleaped a Lakes defender for a deep pass, then scooted down the left sideline for a 70-yard touchdown play. The Gremlins' next drive featured three completed passes from Collaer to Sam Bethancourt, the last of which set them up on the LL-H 3, where Collaer punched it in on the ground on the next play.
That was the end of Houghton's highlights for some time. LL-H returned the ensuing kickoff into Houghton territory and pounded it goalward with nine straight runs, the last of which a 1-yard dive from Tylor Rickard.
Collaer fumbled two plays into the next drive, setting the Lakes up with a short field again. This time, Kumpula went to the air on fourth down as Konrad Klein crossed the plane from 11 yards out.
Again a second-down disaster befell the Gremlins when Collaer's overthrown pass landed in Roose's breadbasket. He took it down to the 2 and Rickard rolled in on the next play, giving the Lakes the lead.
Houghton regained its bearings after the half, fighting the Lakes to a scoreless draw in the third quarter. Collaer was sacked on the last play of the frame, setting up fourth-and-long, but went deep down the sideline to Foltz again. Foltz made it to the 5, and on third-and-goal, Collaer rolled out and found Ruotsala in the back of the end zone for the game-tying score. The two-point conversion failed, however, maintaining a 20-20 tie.
Each team operated in the other's end as regulation wound down, but neither side crossed the 20 and a speculative 44-yard field goal attempt by the Lakes inside the last 30 seconds was well short, sending the Lakes to their first overtime game since a 2010 loss to Hurley, Wis.
"For us to stand up against a winning program like them says hopefully we're making progress," Borree said.
Collaer threw for 205 yards on 9-of-17 attempts and ran for a team-high 69 yards on 30 carries.
For the Lakes, Roose ran for 85 yards on 18 tries with Rickard adding 44 yards on 13 carries.
LL-H is at North Dickinson Friday.
The Gremlins are two wins from automatic playoff qualification and will be heavy favorites in their home finale next Friday against Baraga. Then the Copper Bowl in Hancock, and then, perhaps...
"That's our goal, so we're going to do everything we can to achieve that goal. It's where our focus is," Collaer said.