Trojans stymie Lakes in finale

LAKE LINDEN – 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, rolling to a 35-0 win over the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes.

“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.”

Despite the setback, the Lakes qualified for the Division 8 playoffs with their final 5-4 record. A trip to L’Anse on Friday night was booked Sunday.

Crouch said he told his team not to dwell on Saturday’s defeat.

“We’re still alive … and in the playoffs,” the Lakes skipper noted. “As long as you’re still playing, you have a chance.”

Forest Park, which finishes with a 9-0 record and the outright Great Western Conference title, will host the Gogebic Miners this coming week.

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.

Charlie Heckel and Walli each came up with a handful of tackles for the Lakes, the latter also picking off a pass.

The last meeting between LL-H and L’Anse came in a pre-district game in 2007, although the two teams did scrimmage each other in the preseason.

“They (Hornets) are a talented team,” Crouch noted. “We’ll need to play a full game.”