NEGAUNEE - A near-goaline stand preserved a thrilling gridiron victory for the Negaunee Miners Friday night in their home opener.
As the first half drew to a close, it appeared as though the Miners were on their way to a rout of their Mid-Peninsula Conference rivals, the Manistique Emeralds.
Negaunee held a 24-8 lead, as well as the momentum. However, the Emeralds battled back in the second half to make it a game of inches, and the Miners escaped with the 36-30 victory.
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
Cole Potvin of Manistique evades Negaunee Miners defenders Jason Bell (10) and Ian Mayotte (62) during a kick return in the first quarter of their game, Friday, in Negaunee. The Miners won, 36-30.
"Anytime you can come out on top, it's a bonus," said Miners coach Paul Jacobson. "I thought Manistique played a fantastic ball game tonight. We sustained, and we had a lot of adversity.
"Manistique did some good things on offense, and we held in there. We fought to the end and came out with a victory."
The Emeralds chipped away at the deficit with only 15 seconds remaining in the second quarter when quarterback Tyler Kangas connected with Cole Potvin for a nine-yard touchdown pass, and then Tony Floyd caught the two-point conversion to make it a 24-16 contest.
MANISTIQUE 8 8 14 0 - 30
NEGAUNEE 16 8 6 6 - 36
N - LaJoie, 66-yard run (Windahl run)
M - Floyd, 72-yard run (Kangas run)
N - LaJoie, 80-yard kickoff return (Syrjala pass to Radloff)
N - Syrjala, 30-yard pass to Radloff (LaJoie run)
M - Kangas, 9-yard pass to Potvin (Kangas pass to Floyd)
N - Syrjala, 66-yard run (run failed)
M - Brock, 5-yard run (Floyd run)
M - Brock, 5-yard run (pass failed)
N - Syrjala, 5-yard run (pass failed)
However, Negaunee continued with the scoring onslaught with the first play of the second half, as quarterback Ryan Syrjala took the ball 66 yards on the very first play from scrimmage to boost the Miners to a 30-16 lead.
Manistique didn't hang their heads about the score. As they faced fourth down on the following drive, Kangas faked the punt and hit Potvin downfield to give the Emeralds a fresh set of downs.
Floyd brought his team to the five-yard line on back-to-back runs, and Mike Brock ran it in for the score. Floyd's two point conversion made it 30-24, and Manistique followed it up with a three-and-out, forcing Negaunee to punt.
Potvin helped his team produce some crucial yardage on a 15-yard pass and a 21 yard run, and the drive wrapped up with a Floyd touchdown to even the score at 30.
The Miners did exactly what they needed to do; they put together a lengthy, time-consuming drive that was highlighted by a 28-yard run by Syrjala. He also finished the drive with a 5-yard TD run. However, there was still over seven minutes remaining, and Manistique was clearly hungry for the win.
The Emeralds began on their own 30-yard line, marching it all the way down to Negaunee's 7-yard line. They faced fourth down, and their shot at a victory would come down to a matter of inches.
However, Negaunee's defense stood firm, and the quarterback keeper ended in a turnover on downs.
"We battled back," said Emeralds coach Todd Kangas. "We gave up some big plays at the beginning, but we kept ourselves in it offensively and we were able to move the ball and tie it up. I thought maybe we'd get this last drive here at the end and be able to pull ahead, but we came up just a few inches short on that."
Tyler LaJoie scored twice for Negaunee in the first quarter, posting a 66-yard touchdown run and an 80-yard kickoff return. Brock also scored two rushing touchdowns for Manistique.