Winning at each level

Forest Park runs to 8-player title a decade after last 11-player championship

Crystal Falls Forest Park’s Connor Bortolini is tackled by Portland St. Patrick’s Will Simon Saturday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2017, during the MHSAA 8-Player championships at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — A decade ago, Forest Park won its last state championship in 11-player football.

On Saturday afternoon in the Superior Dome, the Trojans earned their first in the eight-player game.

Leading by 10 points after the first quarter, Forest Park broke the game open with three rushing touchdowns in the second period and charged to a 54-12 victory over Portland St. Patrick in the MHSAA Division 2 championship.

“I’ve been to the state finals probably eight or 10 times, and this year is the sweetest,” Trojans head coach Dave Graff said. “I mean, you get to stay in your own bed, you get to have somebody else travel up here and here we are.

“You look at all the fans we have here today and it was fantastic. All our local coverage and all our local press and these guys are just mingling with all their parents and friends. It’s fantastic.

“They have a new tradition, an eight-man tradition at Forest Park, and it’s good for them.”

Saturday’s glaring stat was Forest Park outgaining St. Patrick 481-44 on the ground with the Trojans having two runners break the 100-yard mark.

Peter Ropiak led FP offensively with 275 yards on 16 carries and three TDs, while Connor Bortolini racked up another 197 yards on 32 carries and four ventures into the end zone.

“We run the ball, that’s what we do,” Graff said. “Our strength is our offensive line going into it. We knew that our offensive line could move people and they didn’t let us down.

“We pass the ball when we have to (though the Trojans didn’t pass at all Saturday) and today, it was just strictly a Bortolini-and-Ropiak show running behind our guys up front.

“Hats off to our offensive line and our running game, because they keep our defense on the bench and that’s how we like to play.”

Portland head coach Patrick Russman said that although the Trojans’ running game is basic, their size is what helped make it so effective.

“They’ve got some big bodies and they’re pretty simple,” he said. “They come downhill at you and they do a nice job with it. They work at it and it’s a great scheme for them.”

Forest Park (10-2) got off to a great start, thanks to a 37-yard run by Bortolini. Three plays later, the senior running back got the Trojans on the board with a 5-yard touchdown.

The Shamrocks (11-2) answered on their first possession. A long pass from Tanner Lawson to Colin Cook brought the ball into FP territory and just a few seconds later, Lawson found Will Simon in the end zone for a 19-yard TD.

But Bortolini couldn’t be stopped. On the Trojans next possession, he had a TD called back due to a holding call, but wasn’t deterred as five plays later, he notched his second score of the game on a 6-yard run, making it 16-6.

Forest Park struck again and again, adding TDs of 23 and 7 yards by Bortolini and 59 yards by Ropiak before halftime to make it 36-6 at the half.

The Shamrocks couldn’t get anything going themselves, punting four times in the second. Lawson was also under pressure every time he dropped back to pass, which led to him overthrowing his receivers.

The Trojans continued to pour it on in the third, with Ropiak scoring on 56- and 46-yard jaunts in the third.

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