Houghton hails new era, victory over Calumet
HOUGHTON – As the Houghton football team’s celebration wound down Friday night on the heels of their first win over Calumet since 2001, Gremlins running back Thomas Schmidt’s summation was as accurate as it was succinct.
“This is New Gremlin football,” Schmidt said.
After a decade of futility – the last time Houghton qualified for the playoffs was 2001 – the Gremlins have embarked on a remarkable turnaround this season in head coach Karl Borree’s second year with the program.
A come-from-behind home win the second week of the season and road-‘W’ at Ironwood were impressive enough, but Houghton produced a profound exhibition of their improvement Friday night by standing toe-to-toe with typical Copper Country-power Calumet and dethroning the Copper Kings on the road 20-14.
So how does Schmidt define this New Gremlin football, this brand that has the Orange and Black at 3-1 after a month?
“We play hard, run it up the middle and we just take it to them,” Schmidt said. “We come ready to play.”
“I am having so much fun with these boys,” Houghton quarterback Ben Collaer, who accounted for all three touchdowns, added. “It is a great opportunity to be a part of this team.”
Houghton showed off the new look all 48 minutes Friday night, but it was highlighted with two textbook scoring drives sandwiched between the halftime intermission to take control of the contest.
First, the Gremlins moved the ball 69 yards with three minutes left in the second quarter before Collaer plunged in for a 1-yard score to tie it up at 14-14.
Houghton took advantage of a no-huddle look that left Calumet scrambling while Collaer completed a trio of passes that all went for first downs. The big hitter, a 23-yard flare to junior Bradlee Ward, put them in position to score with less than a minute on the clock.
Most extraordinary, Houghton has not practiced the no-huddle look they took advantage of. It was just improvisation on the spur of the moment.
“We have good players who are beginning to learn to play with passion and heart,” Borree said. “And that is what makes good football plays … That is all the kids because we don’t practice it.”
Receiving the ball after halftime, the Gremlins picked up right where they left off, compiling an 11-play drive that took over five minutes before Collaer hit Ward for a 29-yard touchdown on a crisp out-and-up route from the slot receiver position.
Houghton converted on pair of third downs and a fourth-and-four on the drive to set up the scoring throw. The Gremlins hit the Kings a different way each time with Schmidt and Collaer each running for one while Sam Bethancourt hauled in a quick hitch to move the chains.
“The offensive line was sensational,” Collaer said. “I love my offensive line. They played great tonight. We aren’t scoring there without the offensive line.”
With a six-point lead to protect, the defense immediately clamped down and forced a three-and-out (aided by a Calumet false start penalty on third-and-one).
The offense once again put together another six-minute, 11-play drive, and even though it didn’t end in points, forced Calumet on its heels with under seven minutes to play when the Kings got the ball back.
The Gremlins defined “churning yards” on the drive, with only one play going for less than two yards and no play over six.
“I actually thought we played very well tonight,” Calumet coach John Croze said. “But you have to give credit to Houghton, they made plays when they needed to and had a couple of big drives in the second half that kept our offense off the field and gave us long field position.”
As usual, it was the bread-and-butter read-option between Collaer (123 yards on 26 carries and Schmidt (43 yards, 20 carries) Houghton went with to milk the clock.
“That is what we live off of,” Borree said. “And I don’t care what offense you are, every offense wants to get three or four yards a play. That is our play to get three or four yards.”
With the Kings forced to pass, the final two drives stalled out with Houghton tackling soundly and forcing hurried throws from Calumet QB Tyler Loukus.
“They are undermanned right now. They have a really good team, and they played a great game tonight,” Borree said. “Just missing a couple of really good players right now.”
Calumet actually enjoyed a 14-0 lead through a quarter-and-a-half – with running back Robert Erkkila and Loukus hitting pay dirt – but struggled to get consistent push with the ground-game to hold on to the ball.
The Kings finished with five first downs to Houghton’s 15, while the Gremlins possessed the ball for 29-plus minutes to Calumet’s 18.
“It all starts with our defensive leader Zach Verran communicating very, very well,” Collaer said. “He helps keep us all on the same page.”