CALUMET – This was the type of football your grandfather spoke of from his day.
Line up, run it up the middle and smash heads for four quarters and see who’s stronger. The Negaunee Miners and Calumet Copper Kings beat up on each other while attempting to impose their physical brands of football. And when the night was over, Negaunee outlasted Calumet 14-6 in a briskly paced game that took less than two hours Thursday at Agassiz Field.
“It’s exactly what I expected it would be, a tough, knock-’em-out, drag’-em-out battle between two physical teams,” Negaunee head coach Paul Jacobson said.
Negaunee (2-0) outgained Calumet 251-122 thanks to its stout offensive line and the tandem running back combination of seniors Shane Ring and Neal Violetta. Ring and Neal might not boast the top-end speed of other top-tier running backs in the U.P., but they displayed their strong, hard-charging running styles as Ring ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, while Violetta had 105 yards on 23 carries.
“They’re our one-two punch,” Jacobson said. “They’re our two leaders. They won’t say a lot in the locker room, but they have a tremendous work athletic. It’s a tribute to the time they put in with the game they had tonight. It shows the work they put into it.”
In a bit of irony the game-deciding play was more finesse than power. Leading 7-0 with 9:52 left in the fourth quarter, Negaunee faced a fourth-and-5 from the Calumet 25. After a timeout, Negaunee senior quarterback Brock Aho dropped back and launched a high-arching pass, as he was hit, up the right side of the field that was caught in the back of the end zone by senior Eric Hurst over a Calumet defender for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 14-0.
“We knew they were going to put it up in the air,” Calumet head coach John Croze said. “We were kind of thinking they would curl (Hurst). It was a great pass. Our kid played it decently, it was just a good pass and a good catch.”
Negaunee had success on a similar play before the first half ended. Aho launched a deep ball for Hurst up the right sideline, and for a moment, it appeared the duo hooked up for a 46-yard score. But Hurst stepped out of bounds when he came down with the ball.
“We saw their free safety cheating up and cheating up, so we thought we could pop one,” Jacobson said about his team going deep on both occasions.
Despite gaining just 74 yards the first 45 minutes, Calumet senior Rory Anderson gave his team a chance late in the fourth quarter; Anderson faked the reverse and continued up the right sideline – where he was almost tackled for a loss – cutting back twice and making two guys miss before outracing the Negaunee defense for Calumet’s biggest play of the night, a 48-yard touchdown to trim Negaunee’s lead to 14-6 with 2:43 remaining in the game.
“(Rory’s) a good open-space runner,” Croze said. “There were a lot of individual efforts from a lot of kids making blocks on that play to spring him. (Rory) did a good job himself to keep himself from being tackled.”
With three timeouts Calumet (1-1) elected to kick deep, resulting in a touchback. With just over a minute left from the Calumet 37, Violetta ran off left tackle and through a would-be tackle for 6 on third-and-4 for the first down, securing the victory.
“That was just a great battle between two good teams,” Croze said. “I’m proud of our kids on how we just kept hanging around and gave us a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
Utilizing a five-man defensive front, Negaunee stymied Calumet’s offense for much of the first half. Calumet’s first three offensive possessions went three-and-out, interception, three-and-out. It wasn’t until Anderson took a jet sweep up the left sideline for 20 yards in the middle of the second quarter that the Copper Kings had its first, first down of the night.
“Negaunee just controlled the line of scrimmage and ground out the clock against us,” Croze said. “They were set up in a five-man front that typically you don’t see them in. But we just have to get better with our assignments upfront.”
Negaunee utilized most of the clock in the first quarter on its first drive, a physical 14-play, 65-yard drive that spanned nearly nine minutes and was capped by a 2-yard run by Ring, giving the Miners a 7-0 lead.
“We challenged our guys upfront,” Jacobson said. “We worked hard for opportunities like this tonight. Really, I thought our guys upfront took the running backs on their backs and carried them for that first drive.”
Up next, Calumet heads to Hurley on Friday for a West-Pac showdown, while Negaunee hosts Gladstone.