Gremlins get their playoff berth and Copper Bowl, too

HANCOCK – The Houghton Gremlins got to six ‘W’s Friday by using two more ‘W’s: Will and work.

There was very little glamour to the way they won the 61st Copper Bowl 26-22 over Hancock at McAfee Field, but a whole lot of grit.

“Three yards and a cloud of dust, that’s what tonight was,” junior quarterback Ben Collaer said. “The line just kept pounding, got just enough push.”

That push puts Houghton (6-3) in the MHSAA Playoffs for the first time since 2001. Their assignment will be announced on Fox Sports Net Detroit Sunday at 7 p.m.

Senior Zach Verran has taken his lumps with the Gremlin football program, which has more wins on the field this season than in the last four combined. After Friday’s game, he was the first to receive the Copper Bowl trophy from coach Karl Borree.

“I knew we had something going. I knew we would get better and better,” he said.

Verran, a lineman, had a front-row seat to an interior slugfest. The Gremlins ran 41 plays in the first half alone for 174 hard-earned yards.

“We just kept playing, that’s pretty much it,” Verran said.

The Bulldogs (3-6) scored on their first drive but couldn’t get anything further going offensively until desperation time.

“We planned to stop their spread. They went more tight and it really was effective against us,” Hancock coach Matt Walter said.

Houghton’s first three drives were 11, 13 and 16 plays long. The third ended with a successful Gremlin gambit. With fourth-and-goal from the Hancock 6, Borree sent the field-goal unit out for a 23-yard try. Hancock called timeout in response and Borree countered by sending his offense out.

Collaer rolled right and hit Sam Bethancourt in the end zone, giving Houghton the lead for good.

Houghton broke the only play of the game longer than 21 yards when Thomas Schmidt broke a third-and-short run up the middle for a 64-yard TD and a 20-8 lead.

Collaer barged in from five yards out on the next drive for what looked like a dagger of a 26-8 lead, but Hancock made it interesting down the stretch.

A hurry-up seven play drive resulted in a 4-yard rushing TD for Brandon Barnes with 1:55 remaining, and after a three-and-out, Hancock partially blocked the resulting punt, returning it to the Houghton 20.

Hancock QB Tanner Kearly threw to the left on the next play, where the ball was tipped and landed gently in the hands of Alex Hill to make it a one-score game with 30 seconds to play, but whatever hope Hancock had was snuffed out when the Gremlins fell on the onside kick.

“The kids fought. In the end, that’s all you can ask for,” Walter said.

Hancock got 66 yards on 15 carries from Riley Engman, while Kearly both ran and threw for 47 yards in their final varsity appearances.

The big third-quarter run boosted Schmidt to a game-high 159 rushing yards on 22 carries, while Collaer bulled his way to 103 yards on 32 attempts, along with 64 pass yards on 5-of-10 aerials, all in the first half.

“I’m just having a blast with these guys,” Collaer said. “It’s a great community to be around and I’m just luck to be a part of it.”

And now, a previously unthinkable frontier: The postseason.

“It’s fun. I’m happy for them. They did it,” Borree said. “There was a lot of pressure on them. The leaders came through, the team came through, they’re fortunate and they won the game.

“It’s another opportunity for the team and for them to see what the next level brings. I think it’ll be an excellent experience no matter what the outcome.”