Better late than never
Black all-stars outlast Red in second-half scoring flurry
By RYAN STIEG
Journal Sports Writer
MARQUETTE — It took a while for things to get exciting at the annual Upper Peninsula All-Star Football Game.
Once they did, it created a memorable experience for both the players and the fans on Saturday afternoon at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
After a scoreless first half, the Black and Red teams played a back-and-forth affair with the two squads exchanging touchdowns before a late fourth-quarter touchdown run by Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Brendan Middleton gave the Blacks a 19-14 victory.
The Black defense also made two key interceptions in the final two minutes to seal the win.
“When you have guys like Brendan, Dan Nocerini (of Forest Park) and Isaac Olson (of Ishpeming), you’ve got to give them the ball,” Black Team head coach Marty Spencer of St. Ignace said. “They all kept running hard and our offensive line really took control and created some great lanes for them.
“After halftime, we decided to go after them a little bit more and one of our offensive tackles, Ashok Ravindran (of Ishpeming) said ‘Coach, you can run behind me,’ so the whole second half, we ran to the right side where he was. That was our plan and it paid off for us.”
Ravindran, who was an All-U.P. Lineman of the Year this past season, has been dominating defensive lines the last two years, so it wasn’t a surprise that he wanted to take control.
“I knew I could get my guy 1-on-1, so I really wanted to make some big holes for our guys,” he said. “This was a great atmosphere to play in and it was a great way to end my career.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the opening two quarters as frequent penalties and several turnovers quashed potential scoring drives.
But they found their rhythm after the break. The Blacks struck first, putting together a solid possession in the third quarter. Nocerini, who was named his team’s Offensive Player of the Game, busted loose for a 20-yard run, and four plays later on 4th-and-goal, he plunged into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. But the Blacks couldn’t handle the snap on the extra point to hold a 6-0 advantage.
The Reds answered back with a long drive of their own. After he found Norway’s Bryce Broden on a 38-yard pass, North Dickinson quarterback Garrett O’Neil scrambled his way past the pylon for a 16-yard TD. Newberry’s John Paramski easily made the extra point to put the Reds up 7-6 with 3:25 left in the third.
The Blacks snatched the lead back just three plays later when St. Ignace QB Steve Seccia connected with Bark River-Harris’ Iver Stenberg for a 76-yard scoring strike. However, they fumbled the snap on the extra point again and led 12-7 heading into the fourth.
The Reds rebounded midway through the final quarter, though. After stuffing Nocerini on fourth down, the Reds marched down the field quickly with the help of a 56-yard pass from O’Neil to Norway’s Justin Bal.
With the drive stalling deep in Black territory, the Reds caught a huge break to take the lead. On fourth down, O’Neil scrambled to the near sideline and heaved the ball to the end zone. It was tipped by a Black defender, but it went straight into the waiting arms of Marquette wide receiver Wyatt Goodwin for a 15-yard TD. Paramski drilled the extra point to put the Reds up 14-12 with 7:08 left.
“I was focusing on the ball the whole time and it was just a perfect tip,” Goodwin said. “I had my hands in the right area and I snagged it away. I wish we were able to come out winners, but it feels great to be an All-Star.”
On the ensuing possession, it didn’t take long for things to swing the Blacks way. After Nocerini gave them a first down, Middleton took off down the near sideline almost untouched for a 53-yard score that gave the Blacks a five-point advantage.
The Reds still had a chance to get back in the game, but O’Neil threw a pick at midfield and after the Reds special teams blocked a Blacks’ punt, O’Neil did it again on the last play of the game to complete the Blacks win.
Even though both teams came to win, the game was more than that with all the players having suited up for their respective high schools for the final time.
Some like Paramski and Ravindran will move on to play college football. Both are looking forward to playing at Michigan Tech with Paramski just relieved to be finished playing quarterback as he’ll pay linebacker for the Huskies.
“Thank goodness this is over,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always been more defensive-minded, so it’s nice to be done. I’ve had a great time playing with all of the guys at Newberry and I’m eager to get back in the swing of things and start a new chapter.”
Two Marquette County players, Goodwin and Negaunee offensive lineman Mike Pizziola, will be lining up for Northern Michigan University in the fall. Pizziola has also had a great wrestling career, which he says he’ll miss, but he’s excited to get the chance to play for the Wildcats.
“I’m going to miss wrestling a lot,” he said. “I had a couple college offers for wrestling, but as much as I love it, it takes so much of a toll on your body and I love the team atmosphere of football.
“It’s been a wonderful time at Negaunee and the coaching staff was incredible. I had so much fun and I have so many memories of what we did as a team.
“But I’m excited to play for Northern. I’ve been training hard for it and I’m looking forward to this fall. This is going to be a whole new adventure.”
Most of these seniors, however, will not be playing ball in college and hung up their cleats for the final time. One of them is the Hematites’ Olson, who got the chance to play under his dad Jeff Olson one last time.
“It’s great to go out this way because I loved having him coach me,” the younger Olson said of this father. “I watched my brother (Daniel) play in this game and I watched the other guys have so much fun, so I really wanted to be part of that.
“This was just like the state championship game (Ishpeming won the Division 7 title back in 2015), because it was just so awesome. Looking back on my career, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.