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Stormy weather ends Hancock, Houghton rivalry in scoreless tie

Hancock's Austin Salani (14) rushes as Houghton's Cade Holombo (8) attempts to tackle on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Houghton, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

HANCOCK – Friday night’s gridiron matchup between the Hancock Bulldogs and the Houghton Gremlins had all the trappings of the annual Copper Bowl rivalry, except there was no bowl to take home.

As it turned out, neither team even took home a win.

Lightning and stormy weather invaded the Keweenaw on Friday, forcing a premature end to the rivalry in a rare 0-0 tie. With 9:09 left on the clock the game came to a halt with a lightning and a downpour.

It’s the first scoreless tie between Houghton and Hancock since 1971. The rivals battled to a 7-7 tie in 1962. Friday was the lowest scoring game between the rivals since a 6-0 Bulldogs win in 1988. The Bulldogs also won 9-0 in 1996.

Houghton was originally scheduled to play Norway at home while Hancock was scheduled to host Gogebic. However due to an increase of COVID-19 cases in Houghton County over the past week, Norway and Gogebic canceled.

On Friday afternoon, the Bulldogs and Gremlins agreed to the rivalry matchup at McAfee Field.

“With Houghton and us both having games canceled, we decided to play each other,” said Hancock athletic director Chris Salani. “We need to get a minimum of four games in (this season) to be eligible for playoff.”

Salani said the schools have no choice but to delay when lightning is in the area.

“When lightning is spotted from a certain distance there is a 30-minute delay” Salani said. “That 30-minute delay must be free of any lightning. So we had three options. We could have waited it out, finished the game tomorrow (Saturday) or ended in a tie. Based on the forecast for the next two hours there was going to be no break in the storm, and given the rise of COVID-19 we decided to end in a tie.”

Lightning was about exciting as the night got. The game itself was mostly a dud as both teams played between the 30-yard lines. Neither the Bulldogs nor the Gremlins put up a strong offensive drive. A first down here and a 6-yard run there proved to be most of the highlight reel for both teams. It was a game that was waiting for a break-out run or a big catch that never happened.

The only real excitement came in the first quarter as both teams traded turnovers twice. Houghton quarterback Camden Markham threw an interception in their first series of downs that put Hancock on the Gremlins 36-yard line.

In the Gremlins’ following possession Brandon Norkol picked up a Hancock fumble on their own 21-yard line. However, the ball dropped to the ground just minutes later and the Bulldogs’ Brandon Pietila jumped on it. Finally, Norkol was in on the action again as he intercepted a pass from Hancock quarterback Connor LeClaire.

The turnover battle also ended in a tie, with each team getting two turnovers on a fumble and turnover each.

Salani said the Copper Bowl is scheduled for Oct. 23, so not all was lost in Friday’s game.

“We got into the fourth quarter with a 0-0 score, and perhaps that will make this year’s Copper Bowl all that more exciting,” he said. “Tonight we got a taste of it.”

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