MARQUETTE - Some coaches probably knew about him, but fans at the Upper Peninsula All-Star Football Game learned how valuable an asset wide receiver Ray'shon Anderson was to the Sault Ste. Marie offense this season.
Anderson used his blazing speed as an inviting target for East quarterbacks Tanner Uren of Negaunee and David Falish of Escanaba.
The speedy Anderson had his team's only pass catches of the day, all coming in the first quarter as East head coach - and main offensive coordinator - Jeff Olson was working to build a lead.
Players from the East team celebrate with the championship trophy after their team won the U.P. All-Star Football Game at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
Uren threw passes on the first two plays of the game. While the first one was nearly intercepted in a crowd near the hash marks and fell incomplete, the second was targeted for Anderson along the left sideline and netted the team a modest seven yards.
After two runs by Ishpeming's Eric Kostreva and a QB sneak by Uren netted just four more yards, Uren went back to Anderson, who sprinted down the left sideline and got open following the QB's heave for a 48-yard gain to the West 8-yard line. It set up their team's first touchdown four plays later.
Uren's Negaunee teammate Adam Francis stopped the West from tying the score or taking the lead with a fumble recovery on the ensuing possession.
But the East was left deep in its own end at the 9-yard line, and following an illegal procedure call, was backed up just inside the 5.
With Falish's turn as signal caller, on the next play, the Eskymos QB rolled left and lofted the ball to around his 40-yard line to Anderson, who only needed a two- or three-yard cushion on his defenders to win a sprint to the end zone for a 95-yard score and 12-0 lead.
The West coaches learned their lesson after that, keeping tight coverage on Anderson the rest of the day.
Neither Anderson nor any other receiver caught another pass for the East, even though Uren and Falish put the ball up nine more times over the final 3 quarters.
While Anderson won East Offensive MVP, Curtis St. Louis of St. Ignace the East Defensive MVP and Joe Iwanicki of Marquette the East Character Award, players from different-sized schools won the awards for the West.
Menominee, which with Kingsford were the only Class B schools represented in the West, had the Offensive MVP With Jared Rivard after he caught five passes for 109 yards, including a 45-yard TD in the fourth, and threw another complete pass.
The other two awards went to Class D schools in the Mid-Eastern Football Conference - Dyllion Hanchek of North Central took Defensive MVP while Dominic Christian of North Dickinson earned the West's Character Award.
Olson and West counterpart Joe Reddinger of North Dickinson went for fourth-down conversions 10 times in total Saturday. Only nine times did the two teams punt or try field goals, even though the rules didn't allow a rush on those plays.
While several fourth-down tries were obvious calls at the end of each half, all of them came with less than 10 yards to go except for two by the West near the end of the game when scoring was urgent.
Olson's team made 3 of 4 tries, never from more than five yards away, while Reddinger was 3 of 6, missing twice during catch-up time in the fourth quarter.
Nearly everyone was wondering what happened at the end of the first half when the West offense received two untimed plays from the East's 35-yard line after the clock ran out.
The explanation provided by Olson was that a special rule for the game had been violated, even though no penalty flags were thrown.
Instead, the plays seemed to be treated as "mulligans," or do-overs, because the East lined up pass defenders more than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
"We were trying to stretch it as far as we could," Olson admitted. "I was told it's part of only (being allowed to play) man-to-man defense, not zone, for this game."
After the two "outfield" defenders knocked down a deep pass by West QB Eric Lane of Gogebic when the clock ran out, the first untimed play resulted in an errant downfield pass but was again called back.
The actual final play cost the West statistically as it resulted in a 20-yard loss for Lane by East tackler Joey Lyle of Ishpeming, his second of two QB sacks in the quarter.
Anemic run game
Despite trying five regular running backs, the West's rushing game was rather anemic, gaining 60 yards in 43 carries. The East finished with 172 yards on 44 attempts.
Some of the damage done to the West's numbers came via five QB sacks, which set the running game back by 57 yards. Four of those sacks ate up at least 10 yards.
But none of the West's regular backs averaged five yards, with Kingsford's Reed Larson rolling up the most yardage, 45 in 12 carries.
On the East side, Westwood's Zack Rankinen averaged 13.5 yards per try with 54 yards in just four rushes, including his team's final TD of 38 yards that made it 19-0 early in the third quarter, insurance badly needed to withstand their opponents' comeback attempt.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.