ESCANABA - It was a special night for the Holy Name seventh and eighth-grade football team Wednesday as it celebrated homecoming with a 28-8 triumph over the Stephenson Sharks.
The festive event opened with a brief fireworks display, a short prayer and the National Anthem.
Then, it was time for the only Catholic school team in the Upper Peninsula to face its visitors on the Holy Name field.
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
The Holy Name Crusaders break through their banner and take the field before their homecoming game against the Stephenson Sharks Wednesday.
"It's feels real special to be part of the only Catholic football team in the U.P.," said eighth-grade lineman Max Scheriff. "It's absolutely a lot of fun. I just try to block the best I can for our quarterback and running backs."
Eighth-grade QB Tyler Willette completed 3-of-8 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
His first TD pass to eighth-grade running back Nick Bink covered 23 yards early in the fourth quarter.
Willette then added a 44-yard aerial to eighth-grade tight end Terrance Butryn for the game's final TD with 1:50 remaining, helping Holy Name to improve to 4-0.
"This was a very special game," said Butryn. "We were super excited to play Stephenson because they beat us in our homecoming game last year. Making them go three-and-out in their first (offensive) series set the tone because then we knew what they were going to do."
Willette also believes last year's homecoming loss provided some motivation.
"That was kind of a wake-up call," he said. "We wanted to make amends for last year. Our coaches are awesome and we really enjoy playing for them and the school. We also have great teachers and we're getting a good education."
Holy Name head coach Bob LeHouillier, Jr. also recalled last year's homecoming contest.
"Last year, we were 3-0 coming into this game and Stephenson came in here and gave us a lesson in football," he said. "We have a stronger team this year. Our line is bigger and stronger, and we're getting better in each game. We've really developed as a team.
"Nick Bink, Tyler Willette and Cody Vandermissen have size, speed and quickness. I'm looking forward to seeing them play in high school."
Bink added pair of rushing touchdowns in the second stanza Wednesday, scoring on a 43-yard dash around right end and from 38 yards on a counter play, giving Holy Name a 14-0 advantage.
"We play a lot of good competition and just go out and play hard every week," said Bink, who rushed 11 times for 130 yards. "Our blockers did a good job making holes for us and Tyler had some good handoffs."
For seventh-grade safety/tight end Jared Ness, this season has been a learning experience.
"The eighth-graders are nice to us and they kind of teach us the game," said Ness. "Learning how to tackle has probably been the most challenging part. But that's also probably where I've improved the most. I really like playing tight end. I like catching the ball and getting a chance to run with it."
Stephenson (2-2), a community-funded program, got on the board midway through the fourth frame on Trevor Topper's 52-yard pass through the middle to Jordan Belac. Nicholas Maki led the Sharks in rushing with 73 yards on 18 carries.
"I don't think we played as well as in our last couple games," said Sharks' coach Randy Cole. "We didn't pick up our blocks as well as we could. Although Holy Name has a good team. They're well coached and have size and speed."
What are some of the things coaches try to teach their kids on this level?
"No. 1, we want the kids to keep up their grades and not get in trouble in school," said LeHouillier. "Playing football is an honor. You can play football anyday. But you need a good education to get a good job. Academically, we have a very solid program. Kids at Holy Name are getting a good education and we back our teachers 100 percent."
Cole says teaching the fundamentals is also key.
"We try to teach the kids the proper techniques and how to play as a team and conduct themselves on and off the field," he added.
After the games, the teams, coaches and parents meet in the school for a meal and fellowship.
"We play them (Holy Name) twice a year and it's great having them on our schedule," said Cole. "We get treated well up here. We treat the kids to hotdogs and snacks when they come to Stephenson, but this is the only school that does something this elaborate."
Also helping with Holy Name's football program are assistant coach Earl Campbell and athletic director Scott Mallard.
"Scott is the best AD I've had to work with," said LeHouillier. "It's also fun working with Earl and the kids. This is what keeps me young. What makes it real good is the backing we have from the school, parents and community."