MARQUETTE - It took just three plays midway through Friday night's Division 7 district title game to propel the Negaunee High School football team to regional play.
A pair of Miner touchdowns sandwiched around a lost Boyne City fumble turned a tight game into an eventual 42-19 NHS victory at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
"It wasn't our best game ... but it's a win," Negaunee head coach Paul Jacobson said after his squad improved to 10-1 this season.
Negaunee’s Tyler Lajoie, left, runs away from Boyne City tackler Matt Robinson during their MHSAA Division 6 district championship playoff game Friday night at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Jenna Thompson)
Tailback Tyler LaJoie scored on runs of 30 and 71 yards, and end Tyler Jandron caught an 81-yard TD pass from quarterback Ryan Syrjala, to spur the Miners.
Negaunee will next play at downstate Ithaca at 1 p.m. Saturday in regional play. The Yellowjackets (11-0) advanced with a 42-7 victory over Maple City Glen Lake Friday night.
Syrjala scored on a 1-yard QB sneak with no time on the clock in the first half to give NHS a 12-6 lead after a sluggish 24 minutes of play.
High school fan bus chartered
NEGAUNEE - A fan bus has been chartered for Negaunee High School students to be able to attend the Miners' MHSAA Division 6 regional championship game to be played at 1 p.m. next Saturday in Ithaca.
The bus is scheduled to leave Negaunee High School at 5 a.m. and return immediately following the game, with an approximate arrival back at NHS at 11 p.m.
Price per person is $55, which includes admission to the game.
Sign-up will be held from 7 a.m. to noon Monday at the high school office.
"We were a little lackadaisical in the first half," NHS linebacker Ian Mayotte, who recorded a key sack in the third quarter, said. "Coach gave us a good pep talk at halftime."
On the first play of the second half, the Ramblers' Malik Smith fumbled and linebacker Tyler Windahl recovered for the Miners at the Boyne City 22.
On the first play from scrimmage, Windahl took it into the end zone for a 20-6 NHS lead over a span of just 19 seconds.
"That was a huge turn of events," Jacobson said, "a big momentum shift."
Windahl said his score came on a "36 quick trap."
"The line just made the blocks they needed to and left me a wide-open hole," he said. "I made a move on the corner ... and after that, it was six points.
Jandron helped spring Windahl free with a block that took out two Boyne city defenders.
"I saw someone coming to Windahl and I motioned for him to go outside," Jandron said. "I got a piece (of a Boyne City defender) and the other guy tripped over him."
Negaunee defensive lineman Jeremy Bell recovered a Boyne City (8-3) fumble on the Ramblers' next offensive series and teammate and running back Zak Harsila made it 26-6 with a 3-yard scoring burst.
Negaunee linebacker Mayotte then made perhaps his team's key defensive play of the night by sacking Ramblers QB Jordan Wilmot on a fourth-and-8 play at the Negaunee 10.
"There was no blitz, just regular zone (defensive) coverage," Mayotte said. "I saw an opening, my instincts kicked in and I went after (Wilmot)."
Just two plays later, Negaunee made it 34-6 with Jandron's long TD catch. He had to pull up for Syrjala's long heave, then gave a Boyne City defender a fake before finishing the scoring play.
"They were playing man coverage and I thought I could get around (the BC defender)," Jandron said. "When I got the ball, I gave him a little hesitation move and then scored."
Said Ramblers' head coach Dave Hills: "There was a coverage breakdown."
Jason Bell of Negaunee recovered his team's ensuing kickoff when it bounced off a Boyne City player. Though the Miners' drive failed to result in a score, it took several minutes off the clock.
"We had two fumbles on offense and one on a kickoff. You can't do that against a good football team," Hills said.
"I thought we played well the first half. In stretches, we outplayed (Negaunee). But you can't give a well-balanced team like Negaunee a short field."
The Ramblers tried to rally in the fourth quarter with a 16-yard scoring run by Maceo Vroman - his second TD of the game - and a 22-yard fumble recovery by Bradley Fouchia for a score.
But LaJoie iced the game with his 71-yard TD run. He made a quick burst through the line, made a cut to his left and outran three Boyne City defenders.
"They're good. They have some athletes," Jacobson said of the Ramblers. "I gave my kids some 'words of encouragement' at halftime.
"We had to go back to the basics. It wasn't like us to make the mental mistakes we did."
Smith led Boyne City offensively with 142 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org