LL-H powers past Houghton 12-8 on rainy day

Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette Lake Linden-Hubbell’s James Tuovila runs against Houghton, Saturday, at Warner Field in Lake Linden. LL-H won 12-8.

LAKE LINDEN — Steady rains and a slick field means power football between the tackles with sturdy backs running downhill. 

It’s the type of physical style the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes and Houghton Gremlins have showcased all season. Nothing fancy, just line up and see who can impose their will on the other over the course of four quarters. 

Resilient as always, LL-H’s key halftime adjustments were the difference to defeat a gutsy Houghton squad, 12-8, Saturday at Warner Field. 

“We make things hard on ourselves at times, but the last couple weeks we’ve managed to dig ourselves out of a hole,” LL-H head coach Andy Crouch said of his team’s third straight win after starting the season 0-3. “My hat is off to Houghton. (Houghton head coach) Frank (Bonacorsi) has those kids playing so hard right now, as hard as I’ve seen them play in a long, long time. He’s got that program headed in the right direction, and he should be commended for it.”

LL-H’s mental toughness is fueled in part by the Lakes’ desire to earn a playoff berth — now just two wins away. Meanwhile, Houghton (1-6) is simply playing for pride and once again, the Gremlins proved they’re far from ready to pack it in. Houghton’s stingy defense has now allowed 19 points in its last three games after surrendering an average of 32 points in the first four contests of the season.

“I couldn’t be more proud of every single one of them,” Bonacorsi said of his 15-player roster. “I could list every single one of their names right now… The passion and heart and character that they have is phenomenal. I’d go to battle every day for them. As a coach, you couldn’t be more proud of them and their work ethic and desire.”

LL-H finished with 226 yards rushing, but was forced to work off the tackles with the Gremlins plugging up the run lanes between the guards. 

During halftime, LL-H adjusted its blocking scheme and saw the change immediately pay off. The Lakes took the opening drive of the second half 60 yards in 12 plays, finishing the drive with a 5-yard TD run from sophomore Jesse Hill. 

“We took a little bit different angles in the second half with how we were blocking,” Crouch said. “We look like we’re doing the same thing over and over again, but we actually have quite a few adjustments in our offense in how we block things and the different angles we take. 

“(Houghton) just tried to make it a mess inside, so we were able to bounce it outside a little bit and get some yards.”

Senior Aaron Hainault led the Lakes’ multi-back system with 72 yards on 15 carries, while senior James Tuovila averaged 7.12 yards per attempt (57 yards on eight carries) and Hill was efficient at 5 yards per carry (50 for 10).

Houghton senior Jake Rajala worked with an athletic trainer in the offseason to prepare himself this year and his dedication continued to pay off Saturday. Rajala gained 116 yards on 26 carries and capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive when he broke multiple tackle attempts for a 15-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion put Houghton ahead, 8-6.

“Jake worked his butt off in the offseason and trained so hard. These are the moments that you train for,” Bonacorsi said. “We rely heavily on him offensively and defensively. He did a hell of a job.”

The grind-it-out affair allowed each team just six possessions as the clock consistently wound down, thanks to 85 of the game’s 103 plays being runs. The limited possessions forced the teams to make the most of their opportunities, and Houghton came one drive short.

With the Gremlins driving down to the LL-H 17 and facing a second-and-12, LL-H’s Jake Marcotte kept his team’s automatic playoff berth chances alive when he jumped an out route for an interception. He returned it to the Houghton 25 with 2:36 left in the game.

Marcotte would also record two pass break-ups on Houghton’s final possession before the Gremlins ran out of time at the LL-H 37.

“He’s had a couple big plays like that this year,” Crouch said. “It put us in the driver’s seat even more.”

Next, LL-H (2-1 Mid Eastern) will look to capture the Mid Eastern conference title with a win at Norway (6-1, 2-1) on Friday.

Houghton goes to Hurley before the annual Copper Bowl matchup with Hancock to close the regular season.

Houghton 0 8 0 0 — 8

LL-H 0 6 6 0 — 12

Second quarter

L — Carter Crouch 2-yard run (2-point no good), 6-0, 7:09

H — Jake Rajala 15-yard run (2-point good), 8-6, 1:42

Third quarter

L –Jesse Hill 5-yard run (2-point no good), 12-8, 4:43

Total offense

Houghton 232 (173 rushing, 59 passing); LL-H 243 (226 rushing, 17 passing)

Rushing (carries-yards-touchdowns)

Houghton — Rajala 26-112-1, Butvilas 12-61-0; LL-H

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

Houghton — Butvilas 5-10-59-0-1; LL-H — Crouch 2-8-17-0-1).