GLADSTONE - The Calumet Copper Kings came into Gladstone Thursday night having won five straight games. They knew a win would ensure them a playoff berth, and they simply weren't going to be denied as they pulverized the Gladstone Braves 36-12.
"That was outstanding," said Calumet coach John Croze. "It's been a great year. We started out 0-3, but I knew we were going to put some wins on the board."
The first quarter ended in a stalemate, with neither team able to score. But just 2:20 into the second quarter, the Copper Kings (6-2) found paydirt when they completed a seven play, 42-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Clark Kangas.
Gladstone's Justin Pederson returns an interception during the second quarter of their game against the Calumet Copper Kings Thursday.
Quarterback, James Sturos, then took the ball in for the two-point conversion almost completely untouched to make the score 8-0.
The Braves were unable to get the first down on the ensuing drive. They kept their heads in the game though, as the first pass thrown by Sturos was intercepted by Justin Pederson. However, Calumet's defense forced another Gladstone punt, and on just the second play of the drive, the Copper Kings found the end zone again on a 46-yard touchdown run by Tyler Roland.
Gladstone received possession with just 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Quarterback Sam Pouliot made the most of the time he had, hitting Pederson for a 20-yard strike, and then taking a quick time out. Then, he found Riley Ballard open for a 35-yard Hail Mary pass, but Ballard was knocked out of bounds as time expired.
Score by quarter:
Calumet - 0 22 8 6 - 36
Gladstone - 0 0 6 6 - 12
Gladstone, 22 yards (Jurek, 10-15).
Calumet, 299 yards (Kangas, 14-128); (Roland, 14-116); (Jacques, 9-45)
Gladstone, (Pouliot, 10-22-0-202)
Calumet, (Sturos, 1-5-1-/minus-7)
At halftime, the Braves were in a 22-0 hole. But this was the last game of the season, and the last high school game for the seniors on the roster. They weren't going to just curl over and let Calumet have the game.
The Braves received the second half kickoff and Pouliot picked up right where he left off, connecting with Pederson for 16 yards to convert on a third down. Faced with another third down, he found his man yet again, as Pederson made an acrobatic 17-yard diving catch to set up a fresh set of downs. And on the very next play, Pouliot hit Blake Ballard for a 39-yard touchdown reception.
Both defenses stood strong, forcing three-and-outs. But then Calumet found a way to get back to their punishing ground game, and their offensive line was nearly flawless. They wrapped up a 10-play, 54-yard drive with a 4-yard run by Kangas.
With the score at 30-6, the game appeared to be all over. But Pouliot had one final drive left in his junior year.
He connected with a 33-yard stripe to Riley Ballard that would have easily been a touchdown if he hadn't been forced out of bounds at the 13-yard line. Then, he found Christian Groleau for a 21-yard reception that set up a 1-yard TD run by Justin Jurek.
Calumet ran down the clock with an 11-play drive on its next possession, but couldn't turn it into points. Gladstone tried to put together some fourth quarter magic, but the Copper Kings defense held firm and forced a punt. And on first and 10, Kangas bursted through the line and opened up for an 81-yard touchdown run, the longest play of the game by either team and his fourth touchdown.
"That felt great," Kangas said. "It was more of an insurance marker for us."
Just as the Copper Kings attempted the extra point, the rain that had held off all night began to fall. It didn't put a damper on Calumet's spirit though, as their cheers from the sidelines grew louder and louder as time expired.
Kangas added that after opening the season 0-3, he thought some people had their doubts about the team being able win six games to make the playoffs, but the team never shared that sentiment.
"We played hard each week, got those six wins, and got a playoff spot," he said.
Gladstone finished its season 2-7, but coach Josh Mileski sees plenty of reasons why his team should be positive.
"I'm not disappointed," he said. "There are life lessons to take away from this, and some of these guys might not see it right away, but one day, they will."
He added that the locker room was very emotional, being the final game for the seniors. But the whole team learned a great deal over the span of a season, and that is something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.