HOUGHTON - When Mary Pickford, famed Canadian silent film actress, said "what we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down," she likely was not talking about football.
But the sentiment applies remarkably well.
The Houghton High School football team showed exceptional poise Friday night after its own mistakes, recovering from a two-touchdown first half deficit to Westwood, overcoming two turnovers and several key penalties to wrest away a 26-20 victory in double overtime.
Brandon Veale/Daily Mining Gazette
Westwood quarterback Trevor Burke stiff-arms Houghton's Jayson Wiitala on a running play in the first half of Friday's game at Alumni Field in Houghton. The Gremlins defeated the Patriots 26-20 in double overtime.
In the first OT, Houghton quarterback Ben Collaer fumbled away the Gremlins' scoring chance on second down. But the defense held firm, forcing the Patriots into a 27-yard field goal attempt that kicker/quarterback Trevor Burke pushed wide right.
Then, after forcing their own fumble in the second overtime, the young Gremlins were forced to eat a 5-yard pre-snap penalty on the two-yard line after half the team mixed up the play call.
Instead of two chances with the 200-pound Collaer from 2 yards out - a likely score the way Collaer had been running - head coach Karl Borree was forced to dial up a run-pass option and trust his junior signal caller to make the right decision.
Collaer fired a strike to tight end Ian Helman - the junior's third big catch of the game - and Houghton notched its first 'W' of the season in dramatic fashion.
"It's ironic talking about poise, because there was no poise there. That forced us into 3rd-and-7," Borree said of the play call mixup. "But it worked out with Ben and Ian making the play."
"Under extreme adversity, when Ben fumbled the ball, the defense rose up and forced a kick," Borree added of the first overtime.
"We were fortunate the (Westwood) guy missed it, but at the end of the day, (the defense) didn't get down on themselves."
With Collaer toting the ball 21 times in the contest, the Patriots' defense was always going to be keyed on the running option, even seven yards from the goal.
Helman said all he had to do was find an open spot in the end zone and he knew the ball would be there.
"I'm just trying to find a hole, and ran up between the outside guy and middle linebacker. I turned around and the ball is right there. Just thinking, 'Holy cow. This is it'," Helman said.
Said Collaer: "Coach told me, 'throw to Ian or run.' So I looked at Ian, and threw it. It wasn't a great throw, it was back hip, but he made a great catch."
Even to get to OT, Houghton required a string of poised performances.
With just less than six minutes left in regulation and trailing 20-14, the Gremlins forced a punt, putting them on their own 30-yard line.
With backs to the wall on second-and-16 and second-and-20, Collaer completed throws of 24 yards (to Helman) and 41 yards (to sophomore Justin Ruotsala) to place the ball in striking distance.
On a 3rd-and-7, with less than three minutes to play, the junior ripped through the Patriots' defense on a read-option to find the end zone from 19 yards out.
It was the second score of the game for Collaer, who finished with 115 yards on 21 carries.
"When you have a 200-pound quarterback that can run like he can, he's going to make plays," first-year Westwood coach John Jessen said.
"(Collaer) is a good player, and so is (running back) Thomas (Schmidt)," Borree said of the option. "And that's basically why we run that play. You try to get the ball to your best dudes."
The Houghton defense held firm on the next drive to force extra time, completing their second-half shutout of the Patriots.
The Gremlins forced - or were gifted, depending on team allegiance - five turnovers with four fumbles and an interception for the game.
"It was emotion and focus," Helman said. "You could feel it in the locker room at halftime."
"We were lucky because they turned the ball over a few times that were crucial times from their standpoint," Borree added. "They were on the road and they had us, but they let us back into the game."
Westwood struggled to move the ball consistently on offense, but when they struck, the Patriots struck big.
Running back Derek Wing found the end zone three times, with runs of 71, 31 and 74 yards. Each time the senior back found some room after evading one tackler and outraced all Houghton defenders.
"We were poor in our defensive alignments and our tackling was horrendous," Borree said. "We did better changing that in the second half."
Houghton struck back with several big plays of its own, enjoying 45-yard runs from Collaer and Schmidt in the first half before Collaer found Helman for receptions of 40 and 24-yards in the second half.
The triple-option - with a read component for Collaer - forced Westwood to overcommit to stopping the run and Helman was the benefactor in the second half.
"It's hard to defend that formation and pull the quarterback up," Borree said. "And they were doing a good job pulling the quarterback up, they really had to commit to doing that. So it puts that defense in a very hard spot."