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1st-half lapse costs Gwinn in high school football opener at Hancock

HANCOCK — The Gwinn High School football team had a lot of incentive for Friday’s season opener against Hancock.

But the Modeltowners, playing in memory of their late coach Dion Brown, surrendered four quick scores late in the first half and dropped a 43-6 decision at McAfee Field.

“We just made too many mistakes,” Gwinn coach Ben Olsen said. “Hancock is too good a team to give that many chances to.”

He reported that while the Modeltowners’ defense stopped Hancock four times in the first quarter, once on an interception by Mastin Love. But turnovers by the Gwinn offense set up the Bulldogs for several short scoring drives in the second quarter, when they turned a 7-0 lead into a 43-0 halftime bulge.

Senior quarterback Conner LeClaire did much of the damage for the Bulldogs on a brisk evening. He had plenty of help from senior tailback Austin Salani.

The two combined for four touchdowns and well over 200 yards of offense.

“We have some weapons on offense,” Hancock coach Ramon Sague said. “And I like the way our offensive line is coming on. It’s something we’ve been working hard on.”

After a sluggish first period, the Bulldogs got on the board when LeClaire tossed a 20-yard TD strike to Carson Chynoweth in the final minute of the quarter.

LeClaire added the PAT kick as he also booted a 34-yard field goal later on.

After a pass interception by Chynoweth on Gwinn’s next possession, the ‘Dogs were in good shape at the Gwinn 6-yard-line. Salani then dashed six yards to paydirt to make it 14-0.

“We were within two scores right there,” Olsen said. “Then the roof caved in on top of us.”

Fullback Cole Stuber rushed seven yards for one score in the second stanza, while LeClaire showed his versatility by scrambling for scoring runs of 46 and 61 yards later in the quarter.

He then combined to catch a 16-yard option pass from Salani for another tally.

Sague, who played his reserves exclusively in the second half, liked what he saw in the quick-strike offense.

“We showed a lot of promise on offense,” the HCHS coach noted. “Hopefully, we can continue that.”

LeClaire rushed for 133 yards, while Salani added 114 more on just 10 carries.

Gwinn got on the board for the only scoring of the second half after a tipped pass was intercepted by lineman Cameron Ghiringhelli and brought back about 25 yards to the Hancock 3-yard line.

“Ghiringhelli was trailing the play and it was just a fortuitous bounce that landed right in his hands,” Olsen said. “Then it was the classic rumbling, bumbling, stumbling runback that almost got us a touchdown right there.”

Carl Peterson, who shared quarterbacking duties with Shafaar Evans for Gwinn during the game, was able to score from right around the 1-inch line on a QB sneak four plays later on fourth down with about three minutes to go in the third quarter.

On Friday, Gwinn returns to the Copper Country for a game at Calumet.

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