MARQUETTE - Fans in the stands have come to expect the spectacular at the Upper Peninsula Football All-Star Game played on the artificial turf of the Superior Dome in Marquette each June.
The weather is fair - though often stiflingly hot and muggy like it was Saturday - the track is perfect and the players are the best U.P. high schools have to offer from their recent graduating classes.
But this year's edition seemed to offer more highlight-reel plays than most other years.
Above, Manistique High School’s Cole Potvin (2) recovers a fumble during the third quarter of the U.P. All-Star Football Game on Saturday at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photos by Adelle Whitefoot)
L’Anse’s Ryan LaBerge looks down field for an open receiver during the third quarter. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Here's a sequential rundown of what this reporter considered the best:
The center snap sailed high and through the hands of holder Quintin Lukasik of Stephenson right into LaBerge's abdomen.
Because the defending team isn't allowed to rush the kick in this all-star game, LaBerge had plenty of time to hand the ball back to Lukasik, who set the ball down and allowed LaBerge to split the uprights.
"I just tossed it back to (Lukasik) like it was a hot potato," said LaBerge, who no doubt will never have that opportunity when he joins Northern Michigan University's team this fall as a kicker.
LaBerge also mentioned this was his first time playing a game on artificial turf.
Zielinski took the attention of two pass defenders, then blocked them both when Snell broke free into the secondary to extend the run.
The situation - 3rd-and-22 from their own 9-yard line following a holding penalty, 5 1/2 minutes to go before halftime and the West leading 21-13.
Pearson, who traded off QB duties every four plays with Briones, rolled right under pressure on this obvious passing down and chucked it across his body to Radloff, who dove to make a shoestring catch for a 31-yard gain. It didn't just get the East out of a hole - five plays later Briones completed another 31-yard pass, this time for a TD to Cole Potvin of Manistique.
The team did well to earlier preserve its timeouts, needing to call two early in the drive following Pearson's 21-yard run and a QB sack.
Briones then made a 43-yard pass and alertly spiked the ball with 21 seconds left, setting up the improbable 27-yard TD catch by Hematite teammate Mitch Laurin as time ran down.
Briones had to put up a dead duck, heaving the ball left as he ran right to avoid the rush. Laurin not only outjumped his defender, but weaved through several more West players en route to the end zone.
"One of their guys tipped it," LaBerge said about the East defenders. "Everybody thought I had made it for sure, but I thought, 'Is it going to get there?'"
Ishpeming swept the East awards, with not only Zhulkie taking Defensive MVP, but Briones earning Offensive MVP for throwing four TD passes, while Adam Prisk earned the Character Award.
For the West, Harris took Offensive MVP, Brad Gustafson of North Dickinson the Defensive MVP and Jake Allen of Kingsford the Character Award.
Checks for $1,000 were presented to the Engadine and Rudyard football programs, while all-star head coaches Marty Spencer of St. Ignace for the East and Bill Santilli of Forest Park for the West were each presented a white football signed by every player.
Santilli was also honored as this was his last game as a coach after 18 years as head coach and four seasons previous to that as JV coach for the Trojans.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is email@example.com.