NEGAUNEE - Down and seemingly out, the Negaunee High School football team found a way to win Friday night.
Trailing Gladstone 28-14 entering the fourth quarter, the host Miners scored three touchdowns - two in less than four minutes during the final 5:46 - to stun the Braves 36-34 in a nonconference clash.
Negaunee overcame three TD passes from Gladstone quarterback Sam Pouliot to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Negaunee senior running back Adam Francis tries to juke past Gladstone sophomore defensive back Justin Jurek during the first quarter of a nonconference game in Negaunee on Friday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The game was delayed 30 minutes at the start of the second half when lightning was spotted east of Negaunee. Michigan High School Athletic Association rules mandate the stoppage.
"Gladstone is a very good football team ... and (the Braves) had us on the ropes," Miners' head coach Paul Jacobson said. "We had to make some plays later on. We had some kids come up big for us."
Negaunee's Adam Francis recovered a botched snap over Pouliot's head for a TD with 5:46 left, then teammate Dustin Goupille scored on an 18-yard run with 2:14 remaining to tie the score 34-34 after making a key sack just moments before.
Tyler LaJoie, who ran a kickoff back 87 yards in the second quarter for a score, then gave Negaunee the win with a two-point conversion.
"They made the plays they needed to, but we gave the game away," Braves head coach Josh Mileski said. "There aren't many teams who play as well as we did and lose.
"They just scored more points than we did."
Pouliot's TD passes were 20 yards to Justin Pederson in the first quarter, 69 yards to Riley Ballard in the second and 48 yards to Pederson in the fourth.
Jared Vuksan added TD runs of 10 and 5 yards to help the Braves (2-1) build a 34-22 lead with 9:13 left.
"Vuksan is one of the best fullbacks in the U.P.," Jacobson said of the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior.
The Miners countered with a 6-yard scoring run by Tanner Uren and a 24-yard TD pass from Uren over the outstretched arms of two Gladstone defenders to 6-7 Brock Weaver to set up the late rally.
Jacobson said the fumble recovery in the end zone by Francis was perhaps the key play of the game for the Miners.
"It was such a fast turn of events. A defensive touchdown is huge for us," he said.
After a long kickoff by Christian MacDonald pinned the Braves back on their own 4-yard line, the Miners forced a Gladstone punt on Goupille's 10-yard sack of Pouliot.
"I was playing a position I had never played this year," said Goupille, normally an outside linebacker. "I was playing 'cat' and coach said 'go smoke' - or an outside blitz - and I just took the quarterback down. There was no one blocking me."
Said Jacobson: "An outside linebacker is an outside linebacker on defense. Depending on what side you're on, you might have a little different responsibilities. But he knew what he was doing."
On his key TD run, Goupille - who led the Miners with 71 yards rushing on 11 carries - gave credit to his teammates.
"I have to give props to the offensive line," the senior said. "There was a huge hole there. There was no one in front of me.
"When I got to the hole, I knew it was a touchdown.
"We've had three close wins now," he added. "We may not come out hard, but we finish strong."
The Miners' Andrew Katona sealed the win with an interception with about two minutes remaining.
Pouliot finished 7 of 12 passing for 226 yards and one interception; Uren was 5 of 10 for 60 yards and one pick.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.