The moment of truth arrived for the Calumet Copper Kings late in Friday night’s football game versus the Gladstone Braves.
Gladstone, trailing 20-16, had the ball at the Calumet 7-yard line with a first down and just under five minutes to play.
But after five plays (including two GHS penalties and two CHS sacks), the Braves were forced to try a Hail Mary from the Calumet 35.
The fourth-down pass by Gladstone’s Darin Johnson was batted down in the end zone and the Copper Kings had a vital victory in the bag.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” a happy Calumet coach John Croze said afterward. “Those kids kept playing hard, just like they have for the past three games.”
The win at Agassiz Field lifted the Blue and Grey to 6-3 on the season — good enough for a playoff spot.
“We don’t know who we’re playing or where, but we’re just happy to be in the playoffs,” Croze noted. “I’m just real proud of these kids. It shows how much work we’ve been putting forth to get better.
“I think that’s the signature trait of this team. We never folded, never gave in when we were struggling in the middle of the season. We just kept working hard. We’re playing great football right now.”
It had to be a bitter defeat coach for Jeff Hansen’s Braves, whose only loss this fall came at the hands of powerful Escanaba.
Johnson, the Braves talented senior quarterback, was kept pretty well in check by the swarming Copper Kings defense. He did cause problems with his strong arm and quick feet, but the sturdy CHS defense rose to the occasion when it had to.
Calumet took the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards in nine plays.
Junior quarterback Brent Loukus carried the final 5 yards for the score, but the 2-point try failed. Loukus hit key passes to Cooper Twardzik and Matt Ojala on the drive.
Gladstone responded immediately when tailback Brody Sanville scooted 16 yards. Johnson added the 2-pointer with a run for an 8-6 reading.
The Copper Kings equaled that touchdown by driving 82 yards in nine plays. Travis Ojala, who had a big night, scored from 3 yards out.
Loukus hit Travis Ojala for the 2-point conversion and a 14-8 advantage.
After holding the Braves on downs deep in Calumet territory, the locals looked they might take an even bigger lead when Travis Ojala scampered 81 yards to the Gladstone 5 with a minute left in the half.
However, a lost fumble snuffed out the opportunity.
The Braves gambled and lost on fourth-and-short at midfield to begin the second half.
Loukus found Matt Ojala with a scoring pass from 36 yards out not long afterward for a 20-8 lead.
The Braves answered back early in the fourth quarter when Johnson clicked on a 25-yard pass to Spencer Husbye at the Calumet 7-yard line.
Sanville ran it in from there and the 2-point conversion was good on a pass from Johnson to Husbye.
Then came Gladstone’s final threat and Calumet’s final stand.
Travis Ojala had another big night, rushing for 174 yards on 18 carries. But the steady running of Trevor Hendrickson and Sam Erkkila also helped.
On defense, Twardzik, T. Ojala and Nick Voelker all had big games.
Husbye was a thorn in the side of the Copper Kings all night, snagging seven passes for 105 yards.
As for his next opponent, Croze said he was content to wait for the selection announcement on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of possibilities, but we’re just going to enjoy this one,”
Gladstone 8 0 0 8 – 16
Calumet 6 8 8 0 – 20
CA – Brett Loukus 5 run (run failed)
GL – Brody Sanville 16 run (Darin Johnson run)
CA – Travis Ojala 3 run (T. Ojala pass from Loukus)
CA – Matt Ojala 36 pass from Loukus (run failed)
GL – Sanville 7 pass from Johnson (Husbye pass from Johnson)