L’Anse muscles past LL-H

L’ANSE – For all the glorification of toughness, heart and will, football at its core, is still a numbers game.

And Friday night, with L’Anse hosting Lake Linden-Hubbell for a Division 8 pre-district playoff game, the numbers tilted heavily in the hosts’ favor.

Going by the team-distributed rosters, L’Anse carries 25 kids on its varsity squad, weighing an average of 200.8 pounds per player. For the Lakes, their 20-man roster weighs in a 172.5 pounds per kid.

Given two teams of similar talent and toughness, the size difference was too much for the Lakes defense to make up, as L’Anse scored on eight of its first 10 drives en route to a season-high 52-34 win.

The Purple Hornets totaled 279 yards on the ground (7.97 yards per carry), and occasionally hit LL-H with some timely play-action passes (120 passing yards) that kept a very proficient Lake Linden option-offense in constant scramble mode.

“There are so many guys I think are first-teamers on this team,” L’Anse senior quarterback Ryan LaBerge said. “The offensive line does a great job, and then we have so many options for the ball. Obviously Jimmy Veker (174 yards, 23 carries) is an awesome running back, and that opens options for the rest of us when the defense keys on him.

“It feels great,” LaBerge continued. “I never thought I would be in this spot. It’s just unreal.”

A trio of explosive plays in a three minute span at the end of the first half blew what was a tight contest into a three-score lead for L’Anse.

After the Lakes cut the Hornets lead to 7-6 with a 19-play drive, Veker ripped off a pair of 20-plus yard runs to put L’Anse back on top 14-6. The Lakes compounded the problem by roughing LaBerge on the point after attempt.

“You can’t take penalties in that situation, and we know that,” LL-H coach Andy Crouch said.

LaBerge got his revenge quickly, dinking a surprise onside kick that L’Anse recovered at the Lakes’ 29-yard line. Coach Mark Leaf said the improved field position from the penalty convinced him to try the onside attempt.

“We thought it might be coming, but we put ourselves in that position by taking a penalty, and they executed it well. Hats off to L’Anse,” Crouch said.

L’Anse started the ensuing drive with a LaBerge play-action rollout and the senior found wide receiver Jonny Magaraggia for 23-yards – a combination seen seven times Friday night – to set up a four-yard touchdown run from Veker.

The Hornets were able to strike one more time before halftime as well, with a Ryan Beauprey interception of Mitchel Kumpula setting up a 32-yard field goal attempt for LaBerge with one second remaining in the half. The All-U.P. kicker was true, turning a close game into a three-score lead with just three minutes off the clock.

“That swing at the end of the first half really made the game for us,” Leaf said. “We needed all those points with the way Lake Linden moved the ball in the second half. The guys did a great job stepping up and making plays.”

The start of the third quarter took on a topsy-turvy feel, with both sides generating a plethora of big plays and points.

Lake Linden needed just three plays after the opening kickoff for Cole Beauchamp to score, but L’Anse responded three minutes later with a 16-yard touchdown catch from Beauprey.

Lake Linden again struck right back, this time with Tyler Roose hauling in a 62-yard play-action pass for a touchdown. L’Anse countered with the 190-pound Beauprey, who broke several arm tackles up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown burst.

Anything you can do I can do better.

“We are a little bit undersized, but those little buggers hit hard and they run hard and they represent our program well,” Crouch said. “But L’Anse is a fine football team, and we had trouble stopping them. Veker has been good for four years, that quarterback is good. They have a lot of good football players.”

More of the same continued in the fourth quarter, with Zach Hulkkonen and LaBerge running in scores for L’Anse, while Kumpula and Coy Budweg crossed the goal-line for L’Anse.

With the win, L’Anse travels to Crystal Falls next to take on Forest Park, the No. 1 ranked small-school in the U.P.

“We will have to shore up our defense, that’s for sure,” Leaf said. “But offensively we want to keep this level going.”