Hornets roll into postseason

L’ANSE – The L’Anse football team has posed a mind-numbing riddle for opponents all year.

Which Purple Hornet weapon do you fear most?

Is it senior Jimmy Veker, as explosive of an athlete as there is in the Copper Country lining up all over the field? How about senior quarterback Ryan LaBerge, capable of beating a defense with his arm and his legs? Then there is junior running back Brandon Kemppainen, a north-south tailback with speed to burn and fullback Ryan Beauprey, the most physical of the four.

It is impossible to key on all of them. And the correct answer remains elusive.

Friday night, injury-depleted and snake-bitten Calumet decided to try and take away the edges, the bread and butter for Kemppainen and Veker. So L’Anse trusted the sophomore Beauprey to carry the load on a night where a victory guaranteed the Purple Hornets a playoff spot.

Beauprey took the lionshare of the carries and roared, bursting his way to 204 yards on 14 carries with three touchdowns to lead L’Anse to a 38-0 victory over the Copper Kings.

“We have so many great players, we can hurt teams in so many different ways,” Beauprey said. “We were treating this game as a playoff game, and that is our attitude for the rest of the season. It is playoffs from here on out.”

The victory assured L’Anse would qualify for the postseason for back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.

“Just so happy for the kids,” L’Anse coach Mark Leaf said. “Making the playoffs two years in a row is huge for this team, and we are going to try and win a couple more and get a home playoff game.”

L’Anse needed just four plays after the opening kickoff to get on the board, with runs of seven, nine and 13 yards setting up a 33-yard touchdown burst up the middle from Beauprey.

Adding injury to insult, Calumet quarterback Tyler Loukus injured his ankle on the following kickoff and would not return to the game, leaving the Kings with third-string sophomore Samuel Kariniemi under center.

L’Anse spent the rest of the half ripping off big plays in the ground game, with LaBerge scoring on a 78-yard run that featured several heads-up cuts in the open field, and Beauprey cross the goalline for the second and third time with a 40-yard cutback run and 13-yard hustle to the pylon.

“We came out early and jumped on them and I think that was the key,” Leaf said. “Calumet is very banged up, they have had just an unbelievable amount of injuries, but you know what, those kids play hard. So I think we needed to start fast and wear them down.”

In total, L’Anse accumulated 406 rushing yards on the day on just 42 carries.

“Our running game, with the balance we have between Beauprey, Kemppainen, Veker and Ryan LaBerge, that sort of stops teams from keying on anything. Our ability to run outside opens up the inside game and vice versa,” Leaf said. “Ryan (Beauprey), especially as a sophomore, just continues to get better and better. You can see his confidence growing. He’s really coming on.”

To their credit, Calumet went down swinging, stringing together a nice option offense that moved the ball consistently with a variety of passes sprinkled in. Unfortunately for Copper King supporters, the youth of the team featured in four turnovers that stalled drives in easy field position for L’Anse.

“We have some playmakers out there. It is just nice to have those weapons out there,” Leaf said.

Calumet hosts winless Ironwood next week, while L’Anse travels to WestPAC-leading Northland Pines.

“It’s all about getting ready for the playoffs,” Beauprey said. “We just have to come to practice and work hard every day.”