A dominant power-running game between the tackles, matched by a swarming physical defense were the trademarks of the Calumet Copper Kings the past two seasons.
That hard-nosed brand of football garnered consecutive West-PAC titles, but has since mostly eluded this year’s Calumet squad.
Well, it’s back.
The Silver and Blue pounded away for 245 yards rushing and finished lengthy drives of 80 and 88 yards to earn a 22-14 West-PAC victory over the L’Anse Purple Hornets Friday in L’Anse.
“We’re finally starting to play with confidence,” Calumet head coach John Croze said. “It’s a great time of the year to be playing with confidence.”
It was essentially now or never for a Calumet squad that entered Friday losers in three of its last four games. The victory moves the Copper Kings to 4-3 and keeps their hopes alive for an automatic playoff bid.
The sense of desperation and urgency with a season on the line was apparent in Calumet’s first drive of the game, when Calumet (3-3 West-PAC) capped a 17-play, 80-yard drive, spanning 8 minutes, 26 seconds, with a 5-yard touchdown run by junior Trevor Hendrickson. Junior Matt Ojala added the 2-point conversion on a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone for an 8-0 advantage.
Right from the first drive, throughout the rest of the night, Calumet’s offensive line was able to get consistent push to generate holes inside for Hendrickson, who finished with 94 yards on 21 carries. Junior Brent Loukus provided the big-play element in the option game, gaining 88 yards on 13 attempts; he set up his game-tying touchdown in the third quarter — a 3-yard run — with a 36-yard scamper where he made multiple defenders miss in the open field.
“At any moment in time, he can snap one,” Croze said of Loukus.
As Loukus’ outside success became more prominent, Calumet was able to crease the L’Anse interior more frequently for larger gains for Hendrickson.
“I think they maybe kind of wore on us a bit, because we couldn’t get our defense off the field,” L’Anse head coach Mark Leaf said. “We had a little trouble defending that option at times.”
Leading 16-14 in the fourth quarter, Loukus went for gains of 18, 12 and 12 on option plays on Calumet’s second-to-last drive. But after a loss of 4 at the L’Anse 1, he was forced to come out of the game for a play after his helmet came off.
Without his quarterback, that forced Croze to implement a formation and a play his team just put in on Monday.
Travis Ojala lined up behind center in a tight shotgun formation with Matt Ojala in a three-point stance as a wingback outside the right end. Travis took the snap, went right and bounced off a couple L’Anse defenders for a 5-yard touchdown to cap a 14-play, 88-yard drive.
“That was kind of a panic situation out there,” Croze said of making due without Loukus. “At that point in time, the guys wanted that win so much, they were going to get the job done.”
Matt Ojala came down with an interception on L’Anse’s next possession, and a 7-yard gain by Hendrickson allowed Loukus to take a knee to secure the victory.
One thing L’Anse will look back in regret was its opening drive of the second half. With a 14-8 lead, L’Anse drove to the Calumet 25. But a holding call made it second-and-17 before the Purple Hornets were forced to face a fourth-and-12. L’Anse appeared to get bailed out with a horse-collar penalty on Calumet, but a personal foul on L’Anse negated the automatic first down. On the replayed fourth down, senior quarterback Kooper Jahfetson was tackled for a gain of 1 after he couldn’t find an open receiver.
The Purple Hornets (4-3, 3-2 West-PAC) came away with nothing after they appeared poised to take a two-score lead.”
“The two penalties killed that drive and really swung the momentum their way,” Leaf said. “The kids fought hard and didn’t quit. I’m proud of the effort.”
L’Anse senior Foster Miller led the offense with 105 yards on 20 carries. Miller trimmed Calumet’s lead to 8-6 on a 38-yard pitch off left tackle — an area of the field Leaf likes to attack.
“We try to get the edge with Foster with his speed and vision,” Leaf said. “Our tackle, Max Ostermeyer, is solid on that side, and we look to run there a lot.”
The Purple Hornets were without junior receiver/defensive back Logan Fish, but junior Reese Waara stepped up in the passing game with a 21-yard touchdown catch on a jump ball in the end zone to give L’Anse a 14-8 advantage.
Next, Calumet hosts Gogebic for homecoming on Friday; L’Anse heads to Northland Pines on the same day.
Calumet 8 0 8 6 — 22
L’Anse 6 8 0 0 — 14
C — Trevor Hendrickson 5-yard run (2-point good), 8-0, 3:34
L — Foster Miller 38-yard run (XP blocked), 8-6 0:54
L — Kooper Jahfetson 21-yard pass to Reese Waara (2-point good), 14-8, 0:16
C — Brent Loukus 3-yard run (2-point good), 16-14, 2:16
C — Travis Ojala 5-yard run (2-point no good), 22-14, 3:51
Calumet 288 (245 rushing, 43 passing); L’Anse 196 (155 rushing, 41 passing)
Calumet — Hendrickson 21-94-1, Loukus 13-88-1, T. Ojala 9-51-1, Erkkila 2-8-0; L’Anse — Miller 20-105-1, Cote 6-23-0, Waara 1-15-0, Jahfetson 7-12-0.
Calumet — Loukus 2-4-43-0-0; L’Anse — Jahfetson — 3-8-41-1-1.