GLADSTONE - Escanaba quarterback Dave Falish was standing near the exits of Marble Field after a hard fought game against Gladstone. He was clutching a bloody rag while a teammate was urging him to stick a q-tip up his nose.
And he had a big smile on his face, courtesy of his team's 37-25 victory Friday night, in the 96th meeting between the two rivals.
"It was definitely worth it," he said of taking his fair share of jarring hits. "Like coach (Jim) Hansen was saying, no matter what you feel now, it was worth it in the end."
Paul Gerard photo
Gladstone’s Justin?Pederson runs after catching a pass from Sam Pouliot in the first quarter Friday night at Marble Field
Add this one to the long list of close, hard hitting, adrenaline fueling contests between these schools. It mattered little that both teams were 2-4 coming in. This was what high school football is all about.
"The scoreboard didn't matter. Both sides just kept fighting hard and making plays," said Escanaba head coach Jim Hansen. "We were fortunate to win and I give a lot of credit to Gladstone for the effort, for hard hits and everything. It was just a great Escanaba-Gladstone game."
The Braves scored on their opening possession as quarterback Sam Pouliot and running back Justin Jurek coasted downfield, the drive capped by a 1-yard plunge by Jurek and highlighted by 19 yard catch and run by Justin Pederson.
ESCANABA 8 14 8 7 - 37
GLADSTONE 6 6 7 6 - 25
G - Justin Jurek, 1-yard run, kick failed, 8:24
E - Dave Falish, 2-yard run, 2pt pass, 2:03
G - Sam Pouliot, 3-yard run, 2pt pass failed, 11:53
E - Falish, 4-yard run, 2pt run, 6:35
E - Ben Kleiman, 7-yard reception from Falish, kick failed, 0:29
G - Jurek 37-yard run, LaCosse kick, 6:01
E - Falish, 2-yard run, 2pt run, 3:21
E - Falish, 93-yard interception, Myrick kick, 11:29
G - Jurek, 4-yard run, 2pt pass failed, 7:21
Escanaba - 368 (288 rushing, 80 passing)
Gladstone - 355 (219 rushing, 136 passing)
Escanaba - (Falish, 5-8-1-80); Gladstone - (Pouliot, 9-20-4-136)
Escanaba - (Falish, 23-169); (Beversluis, 7-31); (Wendrick, 10-62)
Gladstone - (Jurek, 16-147); R. Ballard (11-63)
The two teams traded blows in the first half with Falish and Jurek stealing much of the show with their powerful legs and excellent blocking by both lines.
Falish scored on a 2-yard run toward the end of the first quarter but Pouliot and the Braves answered right back when Gladstone's quarterback dove over an Esky defender from three-yards out to score on the first play of the second quarter. That gave Gladstone a 12-8 lead.
There were some lucky moments for both teams.
An mid-second quarter Escanaba drive that had stalled on fourth-and-nine, was kept alive when Falish threw to John Rappette in double coverage. The ball absolutely should have been picked off, but in an outstanding move by Rappette he came down with it. Five plays later, Falish punched it again.
The Eskymos led 22-12 at halftime.
The teams traded turnovers in the second half as the intensity increased. A fumble on Escanaba's opening possession of the half was recovered by Jurek but the Braves gave it right back when John Brant intercepted Pouliot. Then Escanaba gave it back three plays later when Pederson intercepted Falish. This time, Gladstone capitalized. Two Jurek runs went 53 yards down the field to score and suddenly it was a real game with the Eskymos leading 22-19 with six minutes to go in the third quarter.
Escanaba countered with the hand-it-off-to Trevan Wendrick strategy. It worked brilliantly. At just 155 pounds, Wendrick displayed a toughness above his paygrade, carrying the ball on eight straight handoffs, going 53 yards. The Gladstone defense stuffed him twice from the 2-yard line, when on fourth down Falish took it in himself for his third touchdown on offense.
The Eskymos then attempted to surprise Gladstone with an onside kick that didn't go the full 10-yards, giving Gladstone excellent field position. The Braves drove down to Escanaba's red zone, when the Eskymos' secondary delivered the fatal blow. Falish jumped in front of a Pouliot pass and danced and dashed his way 93 yards all the way home. That gave Escanaba a 37-19 lead with 11:29 left to go in the game.
Falish totaled 169 yards on the ground on 23 carries with three touchdowns and was 5-of-8 passing for 80 yards and another touchdown.
Though Gladstone competed hard until the end, even scoring again on the ensuing possession, the circumstances of playing from behind got to them as a fourth Braves pass went back into Brant's hands on their final drive.
"We just had too many mistakes and you can't win against a good team with as many mistakes as we made," said Gladstone coach Josh Mileski. "It's not pegged on one person. A lot of it is situational. You get down to a point where you have to throw the ball more and a lot of it falls on me. I thought Sam played a nice ballgame."
Pouliot did complete 9-of-20 passing attempts for 136 yards.
Jurek rushed for 147 yards on 16 carries and scored three times.
Hansen complimented his team's secondary.
"We're very happy with the improvement we made there from last week to this week. We still have a lot to work on, but we'll deal with that Monday and enjoy the weekend."
Mileski was very proud of the effort, regardless.
"I know Escanaba will remember playing us with the physical style we had tonight," he said. "I know moral victories aren't great, but you have to take the positive out of it. We played the best football we're capable of, we never took plays off and we hit some kids.
"We're a young team, so even though we lost, it's good to see we played the whole game. There's no one that should have trouble sleeping tonight."