NEGAUNEE - The Negaunee High School football team beat Shelby statistically and had the ball in the Tigers' territory twice in the final 4:36.
But the Miners just couldn't come up with the big play Saturday in dropping a 26-22 decision in the MHSAA District 6, Region 1 championship.
"We had the opportunity to win and just came up short," NHS head coach Paul Jacobson said. "(Shelby) made big plays when they needed to and we didn't.
"It came down to the very end and I thought we had a chance to win the game twice."
Spencer Peters knocked down an attempted pass at the goal line to stop a late Negaunee drive, then a Shelby teammate tackled the Miners' Tyler LaJoie at the Tigers' 15 on fourth down with just seconds remaining to ice the win.
"It sucks," Negaunee senior linebacker Adam Francis said. "It's the worst feeling. We know we're the better team."
The Miners (10-2), behind 214 yards rushing by LaJoie in 33 attempts, gained 398 yards to Shelby's 258.
But the Tigers (10-2) scored three times on plays of more than 22 yards, with Devin Mussell hitting pay dirt on TDs of 22 yards (pass reception) and 66 yards (run).
"We gave up too many big plays," Francis said.
The biggest was a 55-yard pass reception by Shane Kajtazi from QB Peters for the winning score with 9:54 left in the game. Kajtazi leaped with a Negaunee defender in his face and made the catch.
"That long TD pass was the difference," Jacobson said. "We had great coverage on the play, but it was a great throw and a great catch."
Just two minutes before, Negaunee had erased a 19-16 halftime deficit with a 44-yard TD pass from signal caller Tanner Uren to LaJoie for a 22-19 Miners lead following an NHS timeout on fourth and 6.
"It was a great play call by coach," Uren said. "I just threw it up there and Tyler caught it. It gave us some momentum, but we just came up short.
"(Shelby) outplayed us on offense. We just didn't answer in the final quarter when we had the chance."
The Tigers opened the scoring with Mussell's 22-yard TD reception, but the Miners answered with a 2-yard scoring run by LaJoie he helped set up with a 23-yard run.
Forrest Courtright gave the Tigers a 13-8 lead with a 7-yard, second quarter TD burst a few plays after a 43-yard catch by tight end Brody Lee, but Negaunee got a 5-yard TD run by LaJoie three minutes later to regain the lead at 16-13.
On the next play from scrimmage, however, Shelby's Mussell found a seam and sped 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 19-16 halftime lead.
Senior defensive lineman Alex Dempsey gave NHS a late scoring chance by recovering a fumble, but the Miners couldn't find the end zone for the game-winning score.
"I'm sad it's over, but there's nothing you can do," Uren said. "We left it all on the field and I'm proud of the guys. Everyone gave 110 percent."
Added Jacobson: "I'm proud of the way we played. It has been a great ride and we can hold our heads high."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.