Miners finish strong

Negaunee holds off Ishpeming to even record at 3-3

Ishpeming’s Hunter Smith, below, makes a leg tackle on Negaunee’s Jason Waterman Friday night in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

ISHPEMING — There’s always a lot riding on the annual Negaunee-Ishpeming rivalry game, but this year, it felt a little different.

Instead of the playoffs being a foregone conclusion for both teams, the Miners and Hematites both came in at 2-3 and heading into Friday’s game, they were just trying to keep their postseason hopes alive.

At the end of the night, it was Negaunee that moved a step closer to reaching the playoffs as it held on late to outlast Ishpeming 21-14.

When asked what it took to get the hard-fought win, Miners head coach Paul Jacobson kept his answer simple.

“We got seven more points,” he said with a laugh. “It was just a great game and it was great to be a part of. We knew that this was going to be tough game and it was a battle till the end.

“What I liked the most was that it was a hard-fought, physical game, but there was a lot of respect and no cheap shots. It was just two teams going at it and we came out on top.”

For the second straight game, Ishpeming far outgained its opponent on the ground, 351-211, but ended up falling at home. The Hematites continued to make mistakes, both with turnovers and penalties, and that cost them once again.

“Again, we made mistakes,” Ishpeming head coach Jeff Olson said. “We’ll get down to their end and fumble. We’ll get a big play and then have a penalty. We dribbled a couple snaps back to the quarterback.

“We just keep imploding at the wrong time. We’ve played six games so far and I think we’ve outgained every team in all six games. We just keep finding ways to lose. I’m not sure if it’s the concentration level or what.

“We have to right the ship somehow. We’re playing physical football and we’re doing good things, but we’re making so many mistakes. It happens week after week and we just keep finding a way to lose.”

In the opening quarter, Ishpeming got on the scoreboard first. A nice drive was capped off by Sundberg running into the end zone for a 5-yard TD. The 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete and the Hematites led 6-0.

Negaunee (3-3) answered back shortly before the end of the frame. After recovering an Ishpeming fumble, Drew DuShane scampered for a 24-yard run on a reverse, and one play later, Miners quarterback Jason Waterman ran up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown. Erik Salminen made the extra point and Negaunee led 7-6.

The Hematites (2-4) almost took the lead again early in the second quarter, but the Miners defense stepped up big. After giving up big runs to both Sundberg and Donald Denofre and the ball on their 4-yard line, Negaunee stuffed Ishpeming on fourth down and maintained its lead for the rest of the half.

On its first drive of the second half, Ishpeming’s Hunter Smith broke free on a run into Negaunee territory, but the play was called back on a holding penalty. As a result, the Hematites were forced to punt and the Miners made them pay.

DuShane received the ensuing punt and weaved his way down the near sideline for a 69-yard touchdown.

After forcing an Ishpeming punt, the Miners padded their lead with a mix of running and passing. DuShane got things started with a 26-yard run into the Hematites’ end of the field and then he caught a overhead pass on the far sideline to bring the ball to the Ishpeming 1. Waterman then plunged into the end zone on the next play and with the extra point, Negaunee led 21-6.

The Hematites didn’t give up, though. After he went on a 39-yard run toward the end of the third, Smith found a hole on the left side and trotted untouched into the end zone for a 6-yard TD. Ishpeming also picked up the 2-point conversion on a pass from Denofre to Aaron Corkin and only trailed by seven with 11:13 left.

However, that’s when things started to really go wrong for Ishpeming. After driving to the Negaunee 6-yard line, the Hematites fumbled when Negaunee lineman Alex Zampese snatched the ball out of Denofre’s hand.

“Alex just stretched his arm out and grabbed the ball away, so he had a big night,” Jacobson said. “We had performances like that across the board though that enabled us to win.

“I told the guys before where we are Week 3 (when Negaunee was winless) isn’t where we’ll be in Week 6, 7 and 8. I’m looking forward to seeing where we can go from here.”

The Hematites got one last chance with a little more than a minute remaining, but they fumbled it away again to clinch the win for Negaunee.

On Friday, Negaunee hosts Manistique while Ishpeming entertains Westwood.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.