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Negaunee Miners football team grinds down L’Anse Purple Hornets for 36-14 victory

L'Anse’s Johnny Messer, left, tackles Negaunee quarterback Jason Waterman during their high school football played Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, at the Purple Hornets' field. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Eddie O’Neill)

L’ANSE — L’Anse varsity football head coach Mark Leaf knew he had his work cut out for him on the gridiron when the Negaunee Miners came to town on Friday night.

But the workload got only harder just minutes into the game as Purple Hornets senior running back Jonah Dowd went down with an injured rib. The team was also missing sophomore running back Dysean Allen, who injured his finger in practice earlier in the week.

And Negaunee took advantage for a 36-14 win.

“It was like we were playing with one arm (tied) behind our back,” Leaf said. “With Dowd out it made the job harder, but I thought the kids fought hard and battled till the end.”

The first half was back-and-forth with the teams spending much of the time around midfield. The Miners (4-2) got on the board first in the opening quarter with a quarterback sneak from Jason Waterman after a 67-yard drive. Kicker Erik Salminen’s extra point was good to make it 7-0.

L’Anse (4-2) got on the scoreboard in the second quarter. After taking over in their own territory, L’Anse quarterback Presley Rasanen handed off to junior running back Flash Gagnon and found a hole to ran for a 65-yard TD. The Hornets went for the two-point conversion but were unsuccessful to leave their team trailing 7-6.

Gagnon led the Hornets in rushing with 133 yards on 13 carries.

Negaunee went on to score twice more before halftime, making it 22-6 at the break. First, Waterman had his second of three TD runs, then just before halftime, the senior QB connected with Alex Munson on an 8-yard screen pass for another TD.

“Waterman is a very good quarterback,” Leaf said. “He can beat you in the air and on the ground. He is very athletic.”

Miners head coach Paul Jacobson liked the adjustments his team made in the second half.

“I don’t think we started well,” Jacobson said. “I didn’t like the fact that we turned the ball over early on. Also some guys missed assignments early on but we were able to shore that up as game went on, and we played more crisp offensively in the second half.”

The Miners kept the ball mostly to themselves in the third quarter, receiving the second-half kickoff and putting together a 67-yard drive. It was led by running back Nash Hillier, who finished with a team-high 120 yards on 24 carries. The drive took about eight minutes off the clock.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Purple Hornets took over on their 34. Then after two first downs, new QB Alex Kissel threw an interception. Several plays later, Miners running back Lucas Nelson scampered past the goal line to make it 36-6.

The Purple Hornets put together a 61-yard charge downfield late in the third. Kissel connected with receiver Paul Lister-Jacobson for a 15-yard TD pass, and with Jake Laitala’s two-point conversion run L’Anse was down 36-14.

The Miners had 305 yards of total offense — 239 rushing and 66 passing. The Purple Hornets had 203 yards, running for 129 yards and throwing for 74.

“It was really a team effort,” Jacobson said of the win. “We were not necessarily on all cylinders the whole night, but we were able to make it happen.”

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