Unbeaten Trojans earn No. 1
NEGAUNEE – Unbeaten Forest Park has earned the mythical “Little Five” football poll championship from the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
UPSSA, in the final poll of the regular season, ranked Coach Bill Santilli’s unbeaten Trojans No. 1 among Division 8 schools. North Central and North Dickinson finished second and third, respectively.
In the “Big Five” poll, Menominee maintained the top spot since day one. West Iron County wound up fourth and Kingsford fifth.
UPSSA meets Thursday in Marquette to make All-U.P. selections. They will be announced Saturday.
Many high school football observers around Michigan feel that Forest Park is a good bet to make it to the Division 8 championship game next month at Ford Field.
The Trojans did little to dispel that train of thought Saturday afternoon at Warner Field in Lake Linden, rolling to a 35-0 win over the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes for the team’s first unbeaten regular season since 2008.
“They (Trojans) are a big, powerful football team,” LL-H coach Andy Crouch said afterward. “They can beat you in so many ways … they’re very good.”
Forest Park, which finishes with the outright Great Western Conference title, host the Gogebic Miners Friday night in a pre-district playoff contest.
FPHS coach Bill Santilli said he’s been “pleasantly pleased” by the season his team has had.
“We’re still a very young team,” Santilli commented. “We’re basically playing four seniors, four sophomores and a freshman to go along with a couple of juniors.”
One of those juniors, Lee Graff, gave the Lakes fits Saturday.
Sidelined by injuries all of last season, Graff has been the Trojans’ biggest weapon this fall.
On Saturday, he gashed the Lakes’ defense with scoring runs of 2, 35, 55 and 80 yards.
“We’re very happy to have Lee (Graff) back,” Santilli said. “He’s a very intelligent player and he runs the show for us both offensively and defensively.”
On his final two TD runs, Graff shrugged off several would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone.
The Lakes managed to stay in the game in the opening half, being down by a 12-0 score.
And the locals almost came up with a momentum-changer on the final play of the half when Tylor Rickard came within a half-yard of scoring on a hook-and-ladder play.
“If we score there, maybe it’s a different game,” Crouch said. “In fact, we had a couple of other good opportunities in (the first half). But against a team like Forest Park, you have to take advantage of any breaks you get.”
LL-H recovered a fumble and got a nifty pass interception from Nic Walli in the first half.
The second half belonged entirely to the Crystal Falls squad after Graff’s aforementioned 55-yard scoring jaunt early in the third period. That and Austin Snell’s PAT run made it 20-0.
The FP defense kept constant pressure on Lakes quarterback Mitchel Kumpula, sacking him a handful of times and forcing him to throw early.
Backup FP quarterback Connor Kezele connected on a perfectly thrown 51-yard TD strike to Snell later in the third frame. Kezele replaced starter Jeff Johnson, who sprained a knee in the first half.
All that remained for the Iron County team was for Graff to sprint to his 80-yard scoring run early in the final quarter.
Graff finished his big day with 224 yards in 14 carries. Snell added 105 yards in 12 lugs.
Rickard led the Lakes offense with 42 yards in 10 carries.
FP’s 2008 team, the last Trojans’ squad to go undefeated in the regular season, advanced to a state title game.
(Mining Gazette’s Paul Peterson contributed to this report)
Forest Park 6 6 16 7 – 35
LL-Hubbell 0 0 0 0 – 0
FP – Lee Graff 2 run (pass failed)
FP – Graff 35 run (run failed)
FP – Graff 55 run (Austin Snell run)
FP – Snell 51 pass from Connor Kezerle (Ray Tomasek run)
FP – Graff 80 run (Paul Santi kick)
First downs: FP 9, LL 2; Rushes-yards: FP 35-364; LL 32-39; Passing: FP 3-6-1-58; LL 4-10-2-26; Receiving: FP, Snell 1-51; LL, Rickard 1-17; Ongie 1-7; L. Klein 1-2.