EBEN - It was the kind of weather that elevates good games to legendary status.
The Rapid River Rockets and Superior Central Cougars slogged it out through cold, wind, rain, sleet and snow, delivering blow after blow as only two teams that are evenly matched can. But it was Rapid River that was left standing when the clock ticked zero, spoiling Superior Central's homecoming with a 30-27 victory Saturday afternoon in the eight-man football contest in Eben.
The quarterbacks of each team were certainly the stars they have been for all of the last two seasons. Rapid River's Jake Pearson rushed for 257 yards. Superior Central's Trevor Maki preferred, as usual, to do his damage through the air, racking up 220 yards on 11 of 17 passing.
Superior Central running back Tyler Kienitz (14) stiff arms Pat Pryal of Rapid River on a first quarter run Saturday at Eben. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Keith Shelton)
Certainly, none of it came easy for either team.
The temperature at the start of the game was a brisk 38 degrees and though the sun stayed out for awhile, by the second quarter, sleet began to pelt the field, giving way to a mix of rain and snow, and finally, just snow.
The weather threatened to muck the game up, and for a while it did, though the Rockets seemed better equipped to deal with the conditions. The precipitation favored the Rockets' ground game and Superior Central is decidedly an air-attack team.
But even when the weather wasn't hampering Maki and the Cougars, the Rockets' defense was, at least in the first half.
Maki began the game completing only three of his first nine passes. Rockets defenders pressured the Cougars quarterback, batting passes down at the line and putting tight coverage on receivers Bryce Richard and Dan Steward. It helped add up to a 16-6 Rockets advantage at halftime.
"Maki threw a couple balls where one was high, one was low and he was deflected at the line a few times and he was getting pretty frustrated," said Superior Central coach Chris Messano. "Without our passing game, we're a completely different team, so we talked about it at halftime and came out in the second half and got the ball going in the air."
The Rockets added another touchdown on their first possession of the second half when Pearson punched it in, on a 15-yard run to put his team up 24-6.
The Rockets quarterback took a pounding by Cougars defenders, particularly in the second half. Though he got his yards, he was hit hard on nearly every play, getting up visibly shaken. Pearson kept trodding out to the line though, carrying the ball 33 times, keeping drives alive and running out the clock.
"It was a very gutsy performance today by Pearson," said Rapid River head coach Steve Ostrenga. "I held him out for the second half last week (against Cedarville) and held him out all week, and that was a very gutsy performance today. But our line did a nice job and that's where you win the ball game."
Also giving a tough ground performance for Rapid River was sophomore Lucas Bero, who received a heavier workload than usual with starting fullback Eli Orth out with a broken wrist. Bero rushed for 42 yards on 18 carries, most of them 2 or 3-yard plows up the middle, but he did his part in keeping drives alive.
"This was tough weather today, especially when the hail started coming down, but we pulled it together and kept running hard and hung on to the ball and got the win," Bero said. "We love Eli, and can't wait to get him back. I'll do what I can when they need me to, but we'd love to see Eli back as quick as he can."
The Cougars were far from done, however. The Maki-to-Steward connection that had been absent for most of the game finally was present in the final minutes of the third quarter, just as the weather began to clear up.
Maki hit Steward for a big gain down to the Rockets 1-yard line and Tyler Kienitz punched it in to pull Superior Central within 24-12.
The Cougars' defense then contained Pearson on the Rockets' next drive, stopping him on fourth down. Maki then directed the Cougars back down the field, hitting Steward three times on the 59-yard drive, including for an 8-yard touchdown. That made the score 24-19 with eight minutes remaining.
"We knew we had to stop Pearson and that was the first thing we focused on," said Messano. "We did a good job containing him."
Each team scored again in the next five minutes.
Pearson hit Robert Metter for a 19-yard score on a third-and-long play and Maki went back to Steward for 18 yards.
The Cougars' last touchdown pulled them within 30-27 with just over three minutes remaining, but Rapid River had no intention of giving the ball back.