GWINN - It was ugly, but head coach Darren Sinnaeve and his Gwinn High School football Modeltowners will gladly take it, anyway.
Scoring one touchdown on a kickoff return, another on an interception return and a third after recovering a Gladstone fumble, host GHS beat non-conference foe Gladstone, 18-6, in the season-opening game for both teams.
It's the first non-forfeit win the Modeltowners have posted in their first game of a season since 2004 when they beat Westwood, 33-14.
Gwinn High School senior Luke Sinnaeve (13) runs the ball up field as Senior Owen DeVooght (33) blocks out front against Gladstone on Thursday at McComrick Field in Gwinn. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
GHS senior Justin Nyquist (10) throws down field during the first quarter against Gladstone on Thursday. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"It wasn't pretty, but a win is always good," Sinnaeve said. "I thought if we could get that first win, it would boost our morale."
The Gwinn defense spoiled the debut of first-year Braves head coach Cody Kangas - a former Manistique High School standout - by limiting Gladstone to just 80 yards of offense, 73 of them through the air.
"I thought our offense would be our strength," Sinnaeve said, "but tonight, it was our defense.
Gwinn 18, Gladstone 6
Score by quarters:
Gladstone6000 - 6
Gwinn61200 - 18
Gwinn - Mike Rector, 80 kickoff return (run no good), 11:49
Gladstone - Riley Ballard, 76 kickoff return (run no good on penalty), 11:40
Gwinn - Luke Sinnaeve, 4 run (run no good), 10:58
Gwinn - Owen DeVooght, 25 interception return (pass no good). :35
First downs - Gladstone, 3; Gwinn, 11
Rushes-yards - Gladstone, 14-7 (Tyler Wells, 2-14); Gwinn, 58-194 (Luke Sinnaeve, 28-113)
Comp-Att-Int-Yards - Gladstone (Jared Hunter, 6-33-3-73); Gwinn (Justin Nyquist, 2-7-0-17)
"We stunted well and our secondary didn't let anyone get behind them."
Gwinn intercepted three of Gladstone quarterback Jared Hunter's passes - by Travis Corkin, Owen DeVooght and Justin Nyquist.
The Modeltowners also got a fumble recovery from Luke Sinnaeve and a key sack by Nick Miller in Gwinn territory early in the fourth quarter.
"We were practicing defense all week," DeVooght said. "We pretty much knew what (the Braves) were doing before they knew.
"They like to get the edge, so when they motioned, we'd shift with them. Our corners (Nyquist and Corkin) did a heckuva job. They pressured all night."
Kangas, who praised his team's defensive effort, said the Braves had trouble against the Modeltowners' defensive line.
"They stayed low and our offensive line couldn't handle them," he said. "This is the first time I've lost to Gwinn and it hurts."
He added he didn't plan on passing the ball 33 times, with Hunter completing just six.
"I didn't want to pass 33 times all year," he said with a half-smile. "What we tried to do through the air didn't work."
The game started on a note seldom seen in high school football.
Mike Rector of Gwinn took the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. On the next play, Gladstone's Riley Ballard responded with a 76-yard kickoff scamper for a score.
Luke Sinnaeve, who led the Modeltowners with 28 rushes for 113 yards, gave Gwinn a 12-6 lead with a 4-yard TD burst after setting up the score with a fumble recovery late in the first quarter.
DeVooght then made perhaps the key play of the game. He intercepted a pass and ran 25 yards for a score to give his team a 12-point lead with 35 seconds left in the half.
"That was the big play," coach Sinnaeve said. "He got deep in coverage, got his hands up and got the ball in his paws."
Said DeVooght, who also gained 81 yards rushing: "I was just in the right place at the right time. Justin Beauchamp got his hand on the ball and it floated in the air. I just started running after that to the corner."
Beauchamp acknowledged he had a hand in the play.
"I drilled (Hunter's) shoulder," he said. "It was a solid hit."
Kangas decided not to take a knee on the play - as Gwinn was out of time outs - and go into the locker room trailing just 12-6.
"I thought about it," he said. "It's a difficult decision every coach faces.
"But I decided to go for it and put some points on the board. It just didn't go that way."
Gladstone got into Gwinn territory twice in the second half, once with the help of a 29-yard punt return by Tyler Wells and the other when a Modeltowner punt struck a Gwinn player and Hunter recovered.
But the Braves never got into the Gwinn red zone all night.
"It wasn't an easy win, but we got a couple of breaks," Darren Sinnaeve said. "We pounded the ball well, but we have to work more on our passing game."