By STEVE BROWNLEE
For The Daily News
NEGAUNEE – If he walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, he must be a duck.
Except when he’s really a decoy.
That was the main role on offense that Negaunee senior running back Tyler LaJoie served in the Miners’ crushing 36-8 victory over visiting Iron Mountain on Friday night.
LaJoie, an All-Upper Peninsula and All-Mid-Peninsula Conference player a season ago, didn’t have to be Negaunee’s workhorse, carrying the ball just seven times for 56 yards.
“I took some fakes and I could see a couple of their linebackers follow me,” LaJoie said. “That would open things up for whoever did have the ball.”
But LaJoie still played a major role in the game’s outcome, coming up with two big plays soon after the opening gun. Each set up senior teammate Austin Caya for touchdowns that gave Negaunee (4-0 overall, 2-0 Mid-Peninsula Conference) a 14-0 lead four minutes into the game.
On the Mountaineers’ third play following the ensuing kickoff, IM senior QB Craig Qualley threw an accurate strike to one of his receivers on third down. But LaJoie stepped in front of the throw at the last second for an acrobatic interception.
That put the ball on the Negaunee 35, and Caya broke for an untouched for a 48-yard TD.
The Mountaineers (1-3, 1-2) seemed rattled for the rest of the first half, losing a fumble one time and snapping the ball way over their punter’s head for a 28-yard loss another time. Each of those big plays set up Negaunee scores.
IM got on the scoreboard when sophomore Justin Rock recovered Qualley’s fumble in the end zone following a misplayed snap.
“We were beaten by a better football team,” Mountaineers coach Robin Marttila said. “We got off to that slow start because of mistakes, and it snowballed from there.
“But I was happy we fought hard in the second half.”
Negaunee coach Paul Jacobson was pleased with his team’s play, but understood that IM was shorthanded, missing top running back James Christiansen and also losing Qualley by halftime to an injured leg or foot.
Though IM actually ran 10 more offensive plays than Negaunee, the Miners held a 257-94 yardage advantage. Caya was the game’s leading rusher with 62 yards in just four carries, while Mountaineer junior David Mielcarek had 52 yards in 21 attempts.
Iron Mountain 0 0 0 8 – 8
Negaunee 22 14 0 0 – 36
Neg – Austin Caya, 4 run (Tyler Windahl pass from Ryan Syrjala), 11:01
Neg – Caya, 48 run (pass failed), 8:00
Neg – Tyler LaJoie, 4 run (Zane Radloff pass from Syrjala), 5:50
Neg – Tyler Jandron, 33 pass from Syrjala (run failed), 8:16
Neg – Zak Harsila, 7 run (Syrjala run), 3:21
IM – Justin Rock, fumble recovery in end zone (David Mielcarek run), 4:36
First downs – Iron Mountain, 7; Negaunee, 8
Rushes-yards – IM, 41-83 (Mielcarek, 21-52); N, 30-185 (Caya, 4-62)
Comp-Att-Int-Yards – Iron Mountain, Craig Qualley, 1-3-1-11; Negaunee, Syrjala, 3-4-0-72.