Beset with turnovers: Lost fumbles in 4th quarter thwart Negaunee Miners’ comeback try at Gladstone

Negaunee’s Will Luke, second from right, slips a tackle attempt by Gladstone’s Zac Brazeau, second from left, on Friday at Gladstone. Looking on for Gladstone is Ryan Polley, left, and Peter Noblet. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Justin St. Ours)

“We had way too many turnovers. You can’t do that against a good team.” — Paul Jacobson, head coach, Negaunee football


GLADSTONE — Gladstone stood tall on defense at crunch time on Friday night as the Braves opened their season with a 22-20 football triumph over Negaunee.

After the home team took its first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter, junior lineman Brett Boudreau and senior defensive back Lucas Hughes forced fumbles in the final five minutes and Hughes sealed the verdict with a quarterback sack on the game’s final play.

“We knew our defense would have to create some opportunities and win the turnover battle,” Braves’ coach Jeff Hansen said. “Otherwise, Negaunee is going to grind you to death. Negaunee is going to try to run between tackles. You have to play good early-down defense to force them into 3rd-and-long situations.”

The Miners (1-1) appeared to be in the midst of a promising go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. That drive, however, ended on the Braves’ 23-yard line by Boudreau’s fumble recovery.

Gladstone then began to march downfield, but with 1:56 left to play, that drive stalled with Negaunee’s Philip Nelson’s interception at the NHS 20.

The Miners’ final possession then lasted just 19 seconds as the Braves regained it on Hughes’ fumble recovery.

“Missed opportunities and mistakes were keys to this game,” Negaunee coach Paul Jacobson said. “We had way too many turnovers. You can’t do that against a good team.”

Gladstone tied the score 20-20 with 9:55 remaining when senior running back Ryan Polley scored on a 14-yard run through the left side. The two-point conversion was key, and after the Braves converted, they led by two points.

Cam Kelly ran in that PAT to secure the lead.

Negaunee opened the third quarter with a 14-play, 66-yard scoring drive that lasted more than seven minutes and ended on a 1-yard touchdown run up the middle by senior running back Lukas Nelson for a 20-14 advantage.

In the first quarter, the Miners marched 54 yards in 11 plays and grabbed a 7-0 lead on a three-yard run by Lukas Nelson with 3:28 left.

Negaunee scored on its next possession, too, when backup QB Gerald Johnson heaved a 37-yard aerial to Nelson for a 14-0 cushion with 38 seconds left in the opening frame.

“When it was 14-0, we knew we just had to stay together and overcome adversity,” Hansen said. “In the second quarter, we went to a more even front on defense. We wanted to get them into passing situations and keep them behind the sticks.

“We didn’t execute in the first quarter.”

Negaunee starting QB Will Luke had left the game shortly before their first TD pass in the first quarter with a broken collarbone.

Kelly trimmed Gladstone’s deficit to 14-6 just 12 seconds into the second stanza when he scampered 74 yards around the left end on a QB keeper.

“I thought we had a good start,” Jacobson said. “Gladstone didn’t have very many practices, and we wanted to take advantage of that.

“We put the ball into the hands of our two senior running backs. I thought they played pretty well, but their long touchdown run really gave them a spark. Losing our starting quarterback also didn’t help.”

The Braves then tied the score 14-14 just 33 seconds before halftime on Kelly’s 41-yard TD pass to senior split end Cam Ballard, set up on the previous play by an interception by GHS junior defensive back Sasha Olsen.

Kelly ran five times for 92 yards and hit 3 of 9 passes for 74 yards.

“This is a big one for us,” Kelly said. “They were good. No. 42 (senior Nash Hillier) is a good player. He can run. We’re happy we got the win and to just be playing. A month ago, it didn’t look good. It feels great to be back.”

Negaunee outgained Gladstone 303-234 yards in total offense. The Miners ran for 235, led by Lukas Nelson who had 155 yards on 29 carries. Hillier finished with 69 on 16 attempts. The Braves had 160 on the ground.

“Cam is a dynamic athlete and a real competitor and we try to utilize his ability,” Hansen said. “We just put our best 11 athletes on the field and let it run through our quarterback.”

On Friday, the Miners host L’Anse.


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