Close no longer close enough
Tight losses left Miners on outside looking in for playoffs
(* West PAC Copper Division game)
Thurs., Aug. 29 — * at Iron Mountain, 7 p.m. ET
Fri., Sept. 6 — * CALUMET, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 13 – * at Hancock, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 20 – at Manisitque, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 27 — ISHPEMING, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 4 — * at L’Anse, 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 11 — * GOGEBIC, 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 18 — * HOUGHTON, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 25 — * at Westwood, 7 p.m.
NEGAUNEE — Close, but not close enough, is a good way to sum up the Negaunee football team’s season last year.
The Miners had a chance to make the playoffs but struggled in close games, and while finishing above .500, they came up short of making the postseason.
When asked what his team learned from last year, Negaunee head coach Paul Jacobson kept his answer simple.
“We learned that 5-4 isn’t good enough,” he said with a chuckle. “We had a good group of seniors last year. We struggled in games that were close and they were good games that we needed to win early on.
“We lost several games by single digits and that was basically the difference between being 5-4 and 9-0 or whatever. It was winning those close games and that’s what we’re really trying to impress on the kids early this season.
“Hey, in order to be successful, you have to learn failure and we definitely learned that the last couple of years. We have to be able to overcome that and win the close games.”
The good thing is that this year’s Miners appear to have the capability to win those games as they return a veteran corps of players.
Jason Waterman is back at quarterback and with a couple years under center, Jacobson said he and his senior signal caller are on the same page.
“The biggest thing is we’re talking the same language now,” Jacobson said. “It’s difficult sometimes with a young quarterback and there’s a learning curve. He’s been through the learning curve, he’s seen it and I don’t think we’ve thrown anything at him yet that he hasn’t seen already in the two years that he’s been with us.
“That experience is obviously the most important factor that he brings to the table beyond his athletic ability.”
Waterman won’t have to do all the offensive duties by himself, though, as he’s got some experienced teammates in the backfield who can share the load.
“We bring back Eric Etelamaki and Jake Sikora,” Jacobson said. “Eric was a huge part of our offense last year as well as Drew DuShane. We feel with bringing back these weapons again that they’ve been there, they’ve had it, they’ve seen it, they’ve done it. They’ve seen everything and now it’s time to act on it.”
For those experienced skill players to be successful, the Miners need a strong offensive line and Jacobson thinks he’s got one.
“We bring back three starters from last year,” he said about that line. “We’re fortunate to have Leo Helppi back and Logan Chaudier and Davin Marshall. Also, Michael Dellangelo and Bryce Jarvi, all guys that saw significant playing time the last two years. The experience of knowing the adjustments of the game is going to help us.”
On the other side of the ball, Jacobson said his many players will have to play both ways, but he’s got the guys with the capability to do so.
“We’re going to switch over, but we’re going to have some more people that we can count on with Bryce Dunstan and Parker Kane and Preston Toutant,” Jacobson said of double duty. “These guys are going to have to speed up their learning curve a little bit, but they’re guys that are going to see some significant playing time on both sides of the ball for us.”
At linebacker, Negaunee returns veterans with some two-way players.
“Leo Helppi started last year for us every game,” the coach said. “He’ll be solid for us inside and we’ll probably look upon Lukas Nelson a little bit as a junior to give us some added speed and strength in the middle. Then outside, we bring back our two starters from last year in Alex Munson and Eric (Etelamaki). So hopefully again, experience should come through for us.”
Finally, in the secondary, the Miners lost a key player at defensive back, but Jacobson thinks he has a couple of guys to fill that spot.
“It’s funny because we bring back Jason and Drew at the corner, but at free (safety), we lose Keegan Erva,” he said. “I thought he was solid for us. A smart, real hard-nosed kid. We’re going to miss him and we’re looking possibly to Will Luke and Jake, one of those two to try to fill some shoes.”
Looking at the schedule, it’s going to be a tough one for the Miners, especially in the early half with two traditionally strong programs.
“It’s competitive,” Jacobson said. “We start off with Iron Mountain and Calumet right off the cuff, two successful teams last year and if you look historically, there’s a lot of tradition in those programs. They’re always at the top of the conference no matter what.
“Then you throw Hancock in there and then Ishpeming, I believe, in Week 5. In the first five weeks, we have pretty much four playoff teams that we have to be ready for.
“You can’t take a week off because they keep coming at you. If you’re not ready for it, you’re going to end up taking a loss the hard way. You have to be able to redirect kids and keep them focused on the task at hand and that’s the game that week.”
The schedule may be difficult, but Jacobson is excited for the season to start.
“We have a real good group of kids that we’re working with,” he said. “They’re fun to be around and I’m excited to see what the season holds for them.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.