Calumet’s football season ended Saturday, but not without a fight.
“We’ve played some physical teams this year, but that is by far the most physical team we’ve played,”Calumet head coach John Croze said. “I’m just proud of how we stood up because they certainly had a size advantage on us.”
Calumet (6-4) has five players over 200 pounds, compared to 12 for the Gladiators (9-1), a team that has won at least two postseason games 11 times in the last 15 years.
“We were a little thin this year, which isn’t typical of us,” Croze said. “We learned how to play with it and play with that disadvantage.”
Calumet led 6-0 less than five minutes into the game after Cooper Twardzik blocked a punt that gave the Copper Kings the ball at the 4. The team was in a base defense instead of punt block, in case of a fake, which kept Twardzik on the field.
“He’s a load when he gets going,” Croze said. “It was nice for us to get on the board first and it put a lot of energy in us.”
Trevor Hendrickson punched in a 2-yard run on the next play after a TCSF offside penalty.
“We were feeling really good at that point,” Croze said. “Pretty much feeling good until we got down two touchdowns. Their defense is so tough to get some successful offense going against. Sometimes we had some plays get success, but just over and over it was like we were running into a wall.”
The rest was mainly St. Francis grinding out drives on the ground and limiting Calumet to just five first downs and 44 yards of total offense.
“I’m really proud of how we came down here and put ourselves in a position to compete for four quarters against a very talented football team,” Croze said. “Hats off to my kids for how hard they worked and played. Just a great football season all around.”
Calumet gained only 10 rushing yards on 26 carries. St. Francis racked up 369 and averaged 6.5 per carry.
The Copper Kings were flagged only four times for 19 yards, compared to 10 penalties resulting in 81 yards of losses for the Gladiators.
“I don’t know if they’re going to need new flags after how many times they threw them out there today,” St. Francis head coach Josh Sellers said.
Brent Loukus threw for 34 yards, with Twardzik catching two passes for 25 yards.
Hendrickson led the Copper Kings defense with 14 tackles, six solo. Sam Erkkila and Travis Ojala added 11 each and Matt Ojala registered eight.
St. Francis advances to host Glen Lake (7-2) in the district final next Saturday. Glen Lake eliminated the Copper Kings in the regional final last season.
The young Copper Kings — who started the season 3-3 before reeling off consecutive wins over L’Anse, Gogebic and Gladstone — had just six seniors on the roster and return nine starters on defense.
“We did a great job with the young guys learning,” Croze said. “We went through some growing pains throughout the year. At times, we were our own worst enemy. But once we settled down and became seasoned veterans, we rattled off three straight wins to get in the playoffs.
“I think we grew a lot from the first game to the last game. That’s going to launch us into next season.