L'ANSE - Overcoming adversity does not do it justice. To be sure, it's true. But the typical football idiom has been tossed around so often that to simply label L'Anse's 34-28 playoff victory over Forest Park as "coming back from difficult circumstances" would be a strong disservice to the 26 Purple Hornets suited up at Meadowbrook Field Friday night.
It is a story best told in pictures, not words.
There was junior quarterback Jacob Ostermeyer, mouth gaping, sprinting over to the bench after his game-winning 32-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jonny Magaraggia with 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter. There was the student section, piling over the single rope separating the fans and the field after Jimmy Veker sealed the win with his second interception in two drives. And there was senior running back Cody Goldsworthy, who despite running for 136 yards already on the night, decided to lead his team with one more scamper to dive head first in the shin-zdeep puddle behind the end zone.
L'Anse sophomore running back Brandon Kemppainen takes a toss around the edge Friday night as Forest Park freshman Adam Hilberg attempts a tackle. L'Anse won in the final minute of the contest 34-28. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"That was the happiest moment of my life," Ostermeyer said.
"To beat a powerhouse like Forest Park is just the best feeling in the world," Veker said.
"Oh man, all the momentum swings and the ups and downs, that was wild," L'Anse coach Mark Leaf said. "The way we fought back after some turnovers, we got some big plays and our kids never quit."
Forest Park 6 8 8 6 - 28
L'Anse 6 6 6 16 - 34
L'Anse - Veker 7 yard run (run fail), 3:13
FP - Aberly 41 yard catch from Johnson (run fail), 1:29
FP - Aberly 2 yard run (Aberly run), 2:02
L'Anse - Veker 6 yard catch from Ostermeyer, 0:20
FP - Johnson 4 yard run (Tomasik catch), 7:39
L'Anse - Goldsworthy 41 yard touchdown (run fail), 5:57
L'Anse - Kemppainen 5 yard run (Veker catch), 9:15
FP - Snell 52 yard catch from Johnson (pass fail), 6:37
L'Anse - Magaraggia 32 yard catch from Ostermeyer (Veker run), 0:41
Total Offense - L'Anse 405 (339 rush, 66 pass); Forest Park 378 (189 rush, 189 pass). Rushing - L'Anse, Goldsworthy 22-136, Veker 12-116, Kemppainen 8-87; Forest Park, Tomasik 11-56; Passing - L'anse, Ostermeyer 4-11-66; Forest Park, Johnson 11-18-189.
With just over three minutes left in the contest, it appeared that the last game L'Anse will likely ever play at Meadowbrook would end the way it always does against the Trojans in the first round of the MHSAA playoffs - with the opponents listening to a we-had-a-great year speech and pondering what-could-have-beens.
Forest Park took a 28-26 lead with 6:37 remaining in the game after a 52-yard catch and run from junior Austin Snell, and then got the ball back two plays later when L'Anse fumbled the snap. Though the Trojans couldn't score from the L'Anse 43, they turned the ball over at the 15-yard line with 3:07 left in the contest and Leaf out of timeouts.
Facing a third-and-13 from their own 40, Leaf went to a gadget wide receiver pass play. The Trojans read it correctly and picked it off as Veker threw deep. With an audible groan from the crowd, it appeared the victory was in hand for FP.
The L'Anse defense held stiffly on the first two downs, however, and Trojan coach Bill Santilli surprisingly elected to pass on a third-and-8 with just over a minute remaining.
Veker made him pay.
The junior broke quickly on an out route and tipped the ball to himself, to give L'Anse one more chance with 55 seconds to go and 34 yards from the endzone.
"I was just making a break and hoping I got the ball," Veker said. "And then 'Please, please catch the ball,' while it was in the air."
After a quick two-yard out to wide receiver Jeffrey Roth, Ostermeyer went for it all and hit Magaraggia perfectly in stride between the safeties.
According to Leaf, Magaraggia made an adjustment on the fly when he saw the safeties split wide.
"At one point I saw a little gap between the two safeties and I took it. I saw the ball coming right over the top, so I just stuck my hands out there and Ostermeyer put it right in my hands," Magaraggia said. "Then I caught the ball and just took off ... I've never run harder."
"I was just in shock," Ostermeyer said of Magaraggia's catch. "I didn't even know what to think."
The Hornets and Trojans exchanged the lead five times over the 48 minutes, and combined for nine total turnovers and 783 yards of total offense.
L'Anse defensive back Gaven Picciano led the way with three interceptions, while Veker got his hands on two.
"This was a very exciting, back and forth football game," Santilli said.
"Like a 15-round bout and whoever was left standing would be crowned the champ."
For L'Anse, the fact that this all came against Forest Park - they of six straight trips to the state championship game in the last decade - made the comeback even sweeter.
"We battled adversity, against the power house team in the area," Ostermeyer said. "We just wouldn't let ourselves lose. It was an awesome game."
The first half was marked with a back-and-for exchange of big plays, with Forest Park's Aberly scoring two touchdowns, including a 41-yard catch on third-and-10 and Veker finding the end zone twice, including on a 6-yard pass from Ostermeyer with 20 seconds left in the half. Goldsworthy then found the endzone with a 41-yard burst in the third quarter.
The duel between the athletic Aberly and Goldsworthy-Veker was cut short early though, when Aberly left the game with a leg injury in the fourth quarter.
Up next for L'Anse will be unbeaten North Dickinson, a 50-12 winner over Gogebic.
"It is going to be a tough task for us next week, we know North Dickinson is very good," Leaf said. "But we are going to prepare the best we can and give it all we got."