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Negaunee edges Calumet 20-19 for district title

Calumet’s Carter Kilpela (86) catches a pass on fourth-and-6 in the fourth quarter against Negaunee during a MHSAA Division 6 District 41 championship game on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Calumet, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

CALUMET — Negaunee held off a last-minute Calumet drive for a fourth-down stop and a 20-19 victory for the MHSAA Division 6 Division 41 championship on Friday.

With just 14 seconds on the clock and the district championship on the line, the Calumet Copper Kings faced a fourth-and-8 at the Negaunee 25.

On a fourth-and-8, Calumet quarterback Paul Sturos took the snap, stepped back, moved right and threw a pass to receiver Dryden Nelson who brought it in but out of bounds just short of the line to gain.

Game over.

The Miners ran off the field in a jubilant celebration.

“It had all the elements of a great November high school football game in the U.P.,” said Negaunee’s head coach Paul Jacobson. “It was the battle of two great teams going at it head to head.”

Negaunee advances to the regionals, facing the winner of Saturday’s Grayling-Boyne City matchup.

Friday was a battle than began more than 60 minutes earlier in the opening drive of the first quarter when the Copper Kings took over for their first possession. At the 5:16 mark, Sturos took charge and ran it pass the goal line on a 17-yard score and a 7-0 lead.

Neguanee did the same on their first drive, taking over on their own 37. They chipped away with two first downs and entered the Copper Kings’ side of the field. At the 1:45 mark Lucas Nelson took it to the house with a 16-yard run but the Miners missed the extra pointgoing into the second quarter.

The Copper Kings lost the ball on downs at the eight-minute mark. Negaunee took over at their own 30-yard line. In a similar fashion to their first scoring drive, the Miners were methodical and used their big linemen to move the ball up the field bit by bit. With four minutes to go in the half and with a first-and-10 at Calumet’s 20, Lucas Nelson busted up the middle to put the ball at the 1-yard line. Three plays later he found the end zone.

The Copper Kings were not done.

After moving the ball from their 37-yard line to the Miners 25, they had less than a minute to score. On second-and-10, Sturos dropped backed and dodged one defender and then before another could hit him he threw a Hail Mary into the end zone and into the wide eyes and outstretched arms of Dean Loukus. They missed the extra point and Negaunee led 14-13 at halftime.

“I told our guys to keep fighting at halftime,” said acting head coach Josh Frantti, who led the team on Friday with head coach John Croze out sick.

The Copper Kings heeded Frantti’s call as they put another score on the board in the third to retake the lead. Dryden Nelson dodged and spun his way into the end zone for six points at the 5:17 mark. However the Copper Kings missed the two-point conversion which made it a 19-14 game.

The only turnover of the game came in the fourth at the hands of the Copper Kings and it proved to be a game-changer.

At the 10:09 mark, Sturos fumbled the ball and Negaunee’s Parker Cain jumped on it. Neguanee then began an 80-yard march up the field.

A third-and-12 turned into a fourth-and-6 at the 8-yard line with just three minutes to go in the game. The tension was thick as Negaunee’s quarterback Gerald Johnson took the snap and looked north where he found 6-foot-5 Eli Luokkala in the middle of the field for a touchdown. Their two-point attempt failed but they had the lead as the Copper Kings’ final drive crumbled late.

“It was a great battle,” Frantti said .“We are two great programs and we’ve met in the playoffs lots of years and it is always a fun battle like this. Our kids played hard. It was a one-point game and we came out on the short end. The whole team, especially the seniors, did a great job for us tonight.”

Negaunee 6 8 0 6 — 20

Calumet 7 6 6 0 — 19

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