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Wednesday December 2, 2020
Negaunee Grinds Past Gladstone In Playoff Opener

Click the thumbnails in the ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS box above to see photos and videos, and hear interviews with Peter Noblet, Erik Soderman, and Brett Boudreau. Also hear interviews with Coaches Jeff Hansen and Paul Jacobson.

GLADSTONE---
The Negaunee High School football team returned from a two-week COVID layoff to beat the Gladstone Braves, 28-14, in the MHSAA Division Six playoffs Friday night in Gladstone. The Miners avenged a 22-20 regular season loss to theBraves, and advanced to play the Westwood Patriots in the second round of the playoffs next Friday night.

"I'm proud of these guys," Negaunee Coach Paul Jacobson said. "Having two weeks off, coming off a hard-fought loss to Houghton that we felt we were the better team coming in. Just to come out tonight, the resiliency that these guys showed, I'm proud of them. They played with a lot of heart. They played with a lot of determination tonight. They played for each other tonight and they left it all out on the field. That's what you want to see as a coach."

Negaunee had a lot of success running to the edge with Nash Hillier, and quarterback Gerald Johnson was able to complete enough passes on quick-drops in the face of Gladstone pressure.

The Braves offense, meanwhile, struggled for consistency, and could not establish the running game. Gladstone managed a couple of touchdowns on big plays, however, and the Braves defense forced three turnovers to help keep them in the game.

"We really lacked consistency offensively, as far as kind of finding our groove and getting in sync" Gladstone Coach Jeff Hansen said. "I just kind of felt like we were continously searching. We never quite got a foot-hold on what was going on. But that being said. I thought that we competed very hard and gave it our all. You could see the seniors out there really trying to lead the way."

"It was a real tough loss," Gladstone senior Peter Noblet said. "We really put it all out there. We just couldn't get things together, I guess.The emotion was just to survive and get some touchdowns under our belt. We had a lot of penalties on offense. That was rough."

"It felt nice  to be out there this season," Noblet continued. "I'm really glad we were able to get a season in. Just playing out there is fun enough, you know."

Negaunee had great field position all night long. They took advantage of a Brenten Belanger interception in the second quarter of a scoreless game to start offensively at the Gladstone 37-yard-line. Seven plays later, Hillier scored the touchdown from seven yards out.

The Braves countered after a Negaunee fumble. On 3rd-and-7, quarterback Cam Kelly found senior receiver Cam Ballard for a 37-yard-touchdown pass along the sideline. The two-point conversion was no good because of a fumble, but Gladstone was within 7-6 at the half.

Lukas Nelson scored on a five-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put Negaunee in front, and kicker Phillip Nelson made his second straight PAT to make it 14-6.

The Braves struggled on offense, with three straight three-and-outs without a first down. But the Gladstone defense held serve until early in the fourth quarter. That's when the Miners faced 3rd-and-17 from the Braves 26 yard line, and Hillier was able to attack the edge for the 17 yards. Lukas Nelson's touchdown run on the next play made it 21-6 with 7:59 left.

Gladstone appeared to be dead, but the Braves had some life as kelly found John Hansen for a 34-yard pass, and then Ryan Polley broke off a determined 31-yard touchdown run. Polley also powered in for the two-point play, and all of a suddem Gladstone was within 21-14.

Then the Braves got a golden opportunity when Hunter Potier forced a fumble that Zac Brazeau recoverfed. Gladstone was 35 yards away from possibly taking the lead, but an incomplete pass followed by a sack by Eli Luokkala put the Braves in another long-distance ituation. Two plays later, they turned the ball over on downs.

Negaunee then put together a back-breaking drive. Lukas Nelson ripped off a 46-yard run into the red zone, then on 4th-and-8 from thne Braves 16, quarterback Gerald Johnson threw a quick pass to a wide-open Phillip Nelson in the end zone for the clinchig touchdown.

There were still 2:2r5 left, amd the Braves appeared to score  on a Polley touchdown run, but the score was reveresed because of a personal foul penalty and the Braves could not score as Kelly was sacked again and two more passes fell incomplete.

"This is a no-quit group," Hansen said. "I'm very proud of all the contributions that our seniors have made to our program. All things considered, when it looked like we weren't going to have a season. to have a season end in theplayoffs, that's pretty positive for these kids. To be able to leave with some memories, and hopefully some memories that they'll be able to remember for the rest of their lives. That their parents and grandparents will be able to remember for the rest of their lives. I will remember this group very fondly."

For Negaunee, it's a match-up next week against the rival Westwood Patriots.

"It's gonna be a hard-fought ballgame," Jacobson said. "We're gonna celebrate what we have right now. You don't know what you're going to get tomorrow. Who knows? The whole state could be shut down tomorrow. So., we'll enjoy this one."









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