Lakes remain unbeaten, top ND 24-6

LAKE LINDEN – What appeared improbable for the Lake Linden-Hubbell High football team two months ago, now seems very probable. With a hard-fought 24-6 win over North Dickinson Saturday at Warner Field, the Lakes moved to within one victory of back-to-back 9-0 seasons.

After losing a boatload of talent to graduation, Lakes’ coach Andy Crouch had to retool his team on both sides of the ball.

“We felt we had enough talent coming back to have a good season …. but to be 8-0 at this point, no, I didn’t see it coming,” Crouch said. “But it’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of these kids.”

With a 4-0 record in the newly formed Mid-Eastern Conference, the Blue and Gold have assured themselves of no less than a tie for the league title.

Senior tailback Brendan Middleton wreaked all kinds of damage on the Nordics, who entered the game with a 5-2 record.On the day, the speedy Middleton scored all of the points scored by his team.

ND coach Mike Christian said the LL-H back was just too much to contain on the gray, windy afternoon.

“He’s very fast, but he’s also patient and waits for his blocking,” Christian commented. “He’s a very good back.”

Crouch said that his star back had a “helluva of day.”

“He’s been playing varsity ball for three years,” the LL-H skipper said. “He’s someone we look to …. and he usually comes through.”

If there was a turning point in the hard-hitting contest, it came directly after the LL-Hubbell defense stopped the Nordics on downs at the Lakes 7-yard line early in the second quarter of a scoreless game.

Middleton made sure the momentum would stay on his team’s side when he took a pitchout and sprinted 93 yards to the end zone.

“That was a huge play as far as momentum,” Christian said. “We were holding our own right up to then.”

The long TD run gave the locals the impetus they needed.The two teams had traded turnovers in the opening minutes, Garrett O’Neil of ND throwing an interception and freshman Carter Crouch of the Lakes also having one pilfered.

Middleton, who picked up 243 yards in 18 carries on the day, scooted in from five yards out later in the second frame for a 12-0 LL lead at the half.

That score was set up when Aaron Hainault picked off an O’Neil pass and returned it to the ND-40.

The score grew to 18-0 on the first series of the third quarter as the winners received a 46-yard scoring gallop from Middleton. But as they did all day, LL-H failed to convert the PAT.

The Nordics began moving the football after that, thanks to a switch in offensive tactics.

“Basically, we just started running the ball away from (Lincoln) Klein,” Christian noted. “He was clogging up everything prior to that.”

With Devin Wagner doing the bulk of the work, ND needed 11 plays to cover 64 yards. Wagner went the final nine yards, but the PAT try was no good.

The Nordics mounted another drive after forcing a LL-H punt, but that one fizzled out due to a strong defensive stand by the victors.

“I thought our defense played very well,” Crouch said. “They (Nordics) have a very good team and they compete as hard as any team we’ve played this season.”

The icing on the cake was put on when Carter Crouch passed 20 yards to a wide-open Middleton to put the final score in lights.

Coach Crouch said the play of his son has been steady.

“I can’t complain. It’s a tough spot for a kid to be in and he’s handled everything I’ve thrown at him,” he said.

Hainault, who also added 80 yards rushing on the day, was also one of the LL-H defensive leaders. Klein, Steven Suhonen and Stephen Dudenas also made key contributions.

Munising will visit Lake Linden Saturday in the season finale, and then the Lakes will prepare for the playoffs. That scenario could well include North Dickinson, West Iron County and Norway.

“At this point, we could play any of them,” Crouch said. “We’ll have to crunch the numbers.”

North Dickinson meets Bark River-Harris on Friday.

After Saturday’s game, the seniors on the team presented Crouch with a signed football commemorating his 100th win three weeks ago against Gogebic.