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Hard-fought battle

ISHPEMING – There was a lot of hype going into Friday night’s contest between 6-0 Negaunee and 5-0 Ishpeming.

And the game lived up to it.

In front of packed bleachers and fans lined up all around the sidelines, the two teams put on a show worthy of expectations. In the end, it was the Hematites who came out on top as Ozzy Corp found Thomas Finegan for a 55-yard touchdown pass with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter for what turned out to be the winning score.

Ishpeming defensive back Nick Comment sealed his team’s 22-16 win with an interception in the closing seconds.

“I tell you what, this was a great football game with two good teams going at it,” Ishpeming head coach Jeff Olson said. “Negaunee is a big, strong team and our main objective is to run the football and they made it very difficult to run on them.

“Fortunately, we have a great quarterback in Ozzy who put some balls on the money, and although our defense bent at times, I thought we played a good defensive game. Our guys battled to the end and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

For the Miners, the loss was tough to take as they had their chances to win as penalties and mistakes instead sealed the result.

Despite the disappointment, Negaunee head coach Paul Jacobson was proud of his team’s effort.

“I told the kids that they had nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “Ishpeming is a good football team and they played a great game, but our kids were right with them. They’ve got nothing to hang their heads about.

“This game is what U.P. high school football is all about. The atmosphere was fantastic and it was a great battle between two good teams. We went toe-to-toe with them and just came up a little short.”

Negaunee had the game’s first big play when the Miners defense stopped the Hematites on the NHS goal line to keep Ishpeming off the board.

Eventually though, Ishpeming did put points on the board late in the opening quarter when Corp found Luke Kuliu for a 13-yard score in the corner of the end zone. The Hematites picked up the 2-point conversion and led 8-0 after one.

Ishpeming upped it to two scores with five minutes left in the first half. After Negaunee fumbled away a punt return, the Hematites drove into Miners territory and on fourth down, Corp hit Kuliu with another TD pass, this one a 16-yarder. Another 2-poiner put Ishpeming up 16-0.

Negaunee fumbled the ball away again on the ensuing drive, but was bailed out when a bad snap from center forced an Ishpeming fumble and the Miners got the ball back.

After two long runs by Shane Ring and Owen LaJoie, Miners quarterback Brock Aho plunged into the end zone from one yard out and after the 2-point conversion, Negaunee went into the break down just 16-8.

Things got interesting in the fourth frame after a scoreless third quarter. Ishpeming committed a personal foul on a punt, giving Negaunee great field position. A few plays later, Aho scored his second TD, this time from four yards out. The signal caller ran in the 2-point conversion as well, tying the game 16-16.

Ishpeming quieted the Negaunee fans quickly, though. Corp marched his squad down the field and hit Thomas Finegan in stride with a nice pass, and when the receiver broke a tackle, he took off down the left sideline for a 55-yard score. After a failed conversion, the Hematites took a 22-16 lead.

“If he (Corp) isn’t the best QB in the U.P., I’d like you to find someone better,” Olson said. “He’s poised, very athletic and he can hurt you with his feet and with his blocking. Tonight, we needed him to throw. We were in a lot of third-and-long situations and he had a lot of pressure on him, but he made those throws.”

Not giving up by a long shot, Negaunee had some nice opportunities in the waning minutes, but was hit hard with penalties.

Offsetting penalties took away a long first down gain. Later, Aho found George Johnson on the sideline for yardage into Hematites territory, but Johnson was flagged for offensive pass interference, negating the play.

A couple of plays later, Comment picked off Aho on a pass over the middle. The elusive senior almost pulled off the pick-six, but was tackled short of the end zone. Ishpeming then ran out the clock for the victory.

“This win is as sweet as they come,” Olson said. “It’s a cool game to coach in, win or lose. Obviously, it sucks when you lose, but it’s a cool game to coach in because everything’s got to go right and it’s a challenge and us coaches; we love a challenge.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.