DOWN GOES NEGAUNEE: Lacar bottled, Braves best Miners to claim second-straight district title
GLADSTONE — After leading 14-7 at the break, Gladstone received the ball to start the second half against Negaunee.
While the first meeting saw Braves junior Casey Alworden return the kick to the house, this matchup lacked that exact firework. Instead, it was junior John Soderman’s two touchdowns which proved to be the difference in the Brave’s 28-14 District championship win Friday at Marble Athletic Field.
“I feel amazing. I really do,” Soderman said. “We needed someone to step up. I wanted to… so I did. I felt really great doing it too.”
Friday’s win marked the program’s second-straight district championship.
“That’s a great way to send these seniors out,” Braves coach Craig Ness said. “We got another game next week, but we didn’t want to end our season here. We want to end it somewhere else. We’re in the playoffs and it’s just awesome.”
After a silent first quarter, Gladstone marched to the Negaunee 20-yard line. The Braves dialed up a counter run for Soderman, who dashed to the right edge and trotted to the endzone for a touchdown and a 7-0 Braves lead, capping a six play, 55 yard drive.
With a 21-7 lead in hand with 2:30 left in the third quarter, Gladstone trekked from its own 43-yard line to the Miners 18. After a jet sweep to Alworden, a run by senior Eli Berthaume and an unsuccessful pass play, the Braves faced a fourth-and-8. Gladstone went for it, and Young found Soderman for a touchdown to give the home team a 28-7 lead.
Soderan finished with 95 yards off eight touches (four catches, four carries).
“It’s amazing. It really is. It seriously is,” Soderman said of the Braves win over Negaunee. “It was a revenge thing from Negaunee from last year. It just felt so great to beat them, at our own field too, especially 28-14. It feels great.”
The Braves opened the second half with four-straight runs by Berthaume, moving the home team from their own 40-yard line to the Negaunee 46. On third-and-4, senior quarterback Nate Young carried the ball on the right side of the line for a gain of six yards and a first down.
After Berthaume was violently met in the hole by Miners’ defensive lineman Mitch Paltzer to gain a yard, Young connected with junior Isaac Ketchum for 12 yards and a fresh set of downs.
The Braves continued to feed Berthaume the ball on the drive. The senior wideout turned running back six yards on second-and-4 for a first down, then gained five yards on a toss play to the right to move to the Miners’ 9-yard line. On the ensuing play he carried the rock up the gut to set up a third-and-1 from the six.
Gladstone gave Berthaume the rock once again. And after bulldozing multiple defenders and a successful PAT try, the Braves led 21-7 off a 12 play, 60-yard drive which ate 6:39 of game time.
“Our offensive line wanted it that second half,” Ness said. “They came out and they just grounded them. It was just a real tone setter. I’m so proud of them guys. They played their butts off.”
It was a polar-opposite drive to what the Braves did before intermission.
With 1:14 left in the opening half, Gladstone pushed to break a 7-7 tie before the break with the ball at its own 47-yard line. Young connected with senior wideout Kaden Gibbs for 14 yards to open the drive.
On second-and-4 from the Miners’ 35-yard line, Young connected with Soderman. The junior made his defender miss and bolted for a touchdown.
Except a yellow flag flew onto the field. The touchdown was negated by a holding penalty by the Braves, backing them to the 45-yard line.
On the ensuing play Young struck with his right arm once again. He connected with Gobbs for an 18-yard gain.
After a screen to Berthaume gained nothing and Young missed Gibbs on second down, Young heaved a pass to Gibbs in the endzone. The pass fell incomplete.
Except a yellow flag flew onto the field. The Miners were called for pass interference, giving Gladstone a first down from the Negaunee 14 with 31 seconds left. Young connected with Soderman to pick up nine to set up second-and-1 from the five. On the ensuing play Young found Alworden for a score to give Gladstone a 14-7 lead at the break.
“That was insane,” Berthaume said. “It gave us a lot of momentum. It gave us a lot of hope and positivity that our team really needed against this team.”
The Braves possessed the ball with a 28-14 lead and 8:35 to go from their own 20. If there was a time to put away the game, it was now.
But a holding penalty backed up Gladstone to face a second-and-16 from its own 14. A screen pass to senior Rex Kelly gained six. On third-and-10 Young scrambled to his left to pick up 17, sliding in bounds to gain a first down.
Facing a third-and-6 from its own 41, Young came in clutch again. This time a 14-yard pass to Soderman for a first down.
After back-to-back run plays, Gladstone faced a third-and-7 from the Miners 42. Young rolled left, this time finding Alworden to gain eight yards to keep the drive alive.
Facing a third-and-14 on the same drive, Berthaume carried the ball up the gut to face fourth-and-11. The Braves were forced to punt after false start and delay of game penalties on back-to-back plays. But as senior Elliot Vitito’s punt soared through the air, 22 seconds remained on the game clock. The Braves devoured a whopping 8:13 of game clock on its final possession.
A major key on defense was bottling Negaunee running back Kai Lacar. While he finished with 83 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, Lacar earned 10 yards off four carries in the second half.
Negaunee accumulated 121 yards of total offense. Quarterback Ty Jacobson finished 3-of-6 passing for 35 yards. He connected with Ian Engstrom on all three passes.
Young finished 13-of-22 passing for 134 yards and two touchdowns while adding 38 yards rushing off five carries.
Berthaume racked up 100 yards rushing off 26 carries with a score.
The Braves trip to face Kingsley, who bested Manistee 37-18, for a regional title. Time and date were not announced at the time of publication.