L’Anse outlasts No. 4 Hancock to stay atop the West-PAC

Daily Mining Gazette/Bryce Derouin L’Anse’s Foster Miller breaks free for a 20-yard gain Friday against Hancock in L’Anse.

L’ANSE — Coming into their matchup with the Hancock Bulldogs, the L’Anse Purple Hornets knew their conditioning and mental fortitude would be tested to the limits against the Bulldogs’ platoon system.

And after 44 minutes and 10 seconds of fully exerting themselves in a physical, grind-it-out battle to gain a 20-18 lead, L’Anse needed to outplay the Bulldogs late in the fourth quarter where Hancock’s fresh-body system pays off the most.

And they did.

L’Anse senior Jonny Cotey tackled Hancock freshman Austin Salani short of the first down marker to force a turnover on downs, while the L’Anse offense ran out the final 3:01 to preserve a 20-18 West-PAC victory over the No. 4 Bulldogs Friday in L’Anse.

“I couldn’t be prouder of a team than these guys with the way they fought,” L’Anse head coach Mark Leaf said.

L’Anse utilized the template that the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes tried to employ against Hancock in Week 1, with LL-H dominating time of possession with a power-running game in an attempt to keep Hancock’s high-octane offense off the field.

Except this time for L’Anse (3-1, 2-0 West-PAC), they stopped Hancock (3-1, 2-1 West-PAC) on its final offensive drive of the night to secure the win. There was no last-second touchdown propelling Hancock to victory like there had been against LL-H, thanks to Cotey’s tackle at the Hancock 44 on fourth-and-10.

Hancock had just three offensive possessions in the second half, with the first two going deep into L’Anse territory. The first ended at the L’Anse 8 on a fumble recovered by L’Anse, and the second was a six-play, 42-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard run by senior Aaron Barnes.

Hancock had L’Anse’s defense reeling as they appeared to get worn down, and the potential game-winning drive — set up by an interception by Hancock senior Michael Johnson in the end zone on a L’Anse fourth-and-goal from the 7 — started the same with a 17-yard run by Barnes up the middle.

Then, L’Anse’s defense stood tall.

“We just had the heart to not give up,” L’Anse senior linebacker and running back Foster Miller said. “They ran that no-huddle and it was really tiring. I had to take a few breaks on defense, and (the fatigue) definitely hit me more than it normally would.”

While he admitted to getting fatigued, you’d be hard-pressed to see it given how Miller ran the ball, recording 218 yards rushing and one touchdown on 34 carries.

Whether it was a pitch on the edge, or a power-run off tackle, L’Anse’s offensive line provided Miller with the cutback lanes to make opposing defenders miss in the hole. The shiftiness of Miller was a perfect match for the physicality of L’Anse’s offensive line.

“I just stay patient behind my blockers,” Miller said, “and when I see something, I just make a cut. I worked all summer on cutting and stuff, and coach doesn’t like when I dance so I was trying to read my blockers.

“The line executed their blocks really good with me, and without them, I wouldn’t have had anything.”

When Hancock looks back on this loss, they’ll remember the failed 2-point conversion following Barnes’ touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-18. On the first 2-point try, sophomore Colton Salani connected in the end zone with his receiver to tie the game. But a flag was thrown and an illegal man downfield was called. On the next 2-point try, Barnes was stuffed 2 yards short of the goal line on a pass from Salani.

“It was a great football game and could have gone either way,” Hancock head coach Ted Holmstrom said. “My hat’s off to L’Anse; they played a great football game.”

Before the Purple Hornets could make a signature stand, it was their defense that scored the first points of the game, as pressure forced Salani into a bad throw, right into the arms of L’Anse senior defensive end Joe Magaraggia, who returned the interception 55 yards for the touchdown.

Hancock’s first two scores came on quick passes to the left sideline to senior end Grant Hokenson. In track, Hokenson ran a 53.07 400 dash, and Hancock utilized his speed to get him open on the perimeter, where he scored on receptions of 64 and 30 yards.

“When you get him in space, it’s a good thing,” Holmstrom said. “We probably should have hit him in the second half, too, but that’s my bad. He really played well and brought it for us.”

This game will be remembered for L’Anse’s physicality upfront (294 yards rushing), but it was the passing game that gave the Purple Hornets their final score.

Facing a fourth-and-4 from the 14, L’Anse senior quarterback Kooper Jahfetson rolled right and connected with Cotey for a 14-yard touchdown and a 20-12 lead.

“We like to get (Kooper) space where he has a run-pass option,” Leaf said. “He can make plays with his feet or his arm, and it’s a nice weapon to have.”

Next, L’Anse goes to Hurley on Friday where they will look to keep pace with the West Iron County Wykons (3-1, 2-0) for the West-PAC lead.

“I think the kids will start believing,” Leaf said. “I think we probably turned some heads tonight with this win.”

Hancock will go to Calumet on Friday for another conference showdown.

Hancock 6 6 0 6 — 18

L’Anse 7 7 6 0 — 20

First quarter

L — Joe Magaraggia 55-yard interception return (XP good), 7-0, 10:02

H — Colton Salani to Grant Hokenson for 64-yard pass (XP no good), 7-6, 1:59

Second quarter

L — Foster Miller 2-yard run (XP good), 14-6, 7:48

H — Salani to Hokenson for 30-yard pass (2-pt no good), 14-12, 7:48

Third quarter

L — Jahfetson to Cotey for 14-yard pass (XP blocked), 20-12, 5:27

H — Barnes 1-yard run (2-pt no good), 20-18, 11:48

Total offense

Hancock 389 (164 rushing, 205 passing); L’Anse 359 (294 rushing, 65 passing)

Rushing (carries-yards-touchdowns)

Hancock — Nordstrom 15-94-0, Barnes 12-58-1, Salani 5-12-0; L’Anse — Miller 34-218-1, Cote 10-70-0, Parker 1-4-0, Magaraggia 1-1-0, Jahfetson 7-1-0.

Passing (completions-attempts-yards-touchdowns-interceptions)

Hancock — Salani 13-23-205-2-1; L’Anse — Jahfetson 8-11-65-1-0

Receiving (catches-yards-touchdowns)

Hancock — Hokenson 5-141-2, Barnes 4-39-0, A. Salani 2-16-0, Nordstorm 1-9-0; L’Anse — Fish 4-36-0, Miller 2-14-0, Cote 1-14-0, Parker 1-1-0.