Miscues turn All-Star Game in favor of East

MARQUETTE – Even the best make mistakes now and then.

In crunch time of the sixth annual U.P. All-Star Football Game, an underdog West squad’s bid to break the East’s four-year winning streak was short-circuited by ill-timed miscues as East prevailed 41-24.

“We had a couple tough breaks, but we fought through adversity, and we never gave up, never let up, and until the last seconds of the game, we still fought,” West’s Jonny Magaraggia of L’Anse said.

After a 35-yard Ryan LaBerge (L’Anse) field goal made it a three-point game late in the third quarter, West forced a three-and-out from Alex Briones (Ishpeming) and the high-powered East offense, but a fumbled fair catch attempt on the ensuing punt set East up in West territory. Three plays later, Ray Anderson (Sault) had his second rushing touchdown of the game to make it a two-score game for the first time all day on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Bobby Zhulkie, the East’s Defensive Most Valuable Player picked off a promising Jeff Johnson (Forest Park) pass down the hash marks to erase what could have been a response touchdown, and a backward pass fallen on by East’s Justin DeLisle set up East in West territory for a clinching touchdown.

Regardless of the result, West head coach Bill Santilli was carried from the field on the shoulders of his players in tribute. Santilli, who won 171 games in 18 years at Forest Park, including a 2007 state championship and six other appearances in the Division 8 state title game, retired from his post this spring.

“I asked you guys at the start of the game, when you’re facing adversity, to come up with a plan, stick to it and finish strong, and you guys did that,” he said in his postgame valedictory to the players.

“I hope that you can take a little part of me with you for the rest of your lives.”

With the best of Marquette County powerhouses Ishpeming, Negaunee and Marquette on the other side of the line, the West gave no quarter, striking first on a deep ball from Johnson to Menominee burner Devon Harris for a 70-yard play and the lead on the third play from scrimmage.

It took only three more plays for Briones to hit Kyle Winkelman of St. Ignace on an 85-yard catch-and-run the other way, the first of Briones’ four touchdown passes.

East took a brief lead, but West got in one more blow before the game settled down. L’Anse’s Ryan LaBerge piloted the West on an 11-play scoring drive ending in a 19-yard run up the middle from North Dickinson’s Matt Schultz.

In addition to being one of two West QBs, LaBerge handled all the kicking duties, going 3-for-3 on extra points, hitting several solid kickoffs and drilling a 35-yard field goal, the first of what he hopes will be many on the Superior Dome turf. LaBerge signed a National Letter of Intent to kick for Northern Michigan back in February.

“That one (the field goal) got tipped, so I was a little nervous on that one, but I hope it’s the first one of very many,” he said.

He was also 4-for-11 for 68 yards passing and ran four times for 18 yards.

Most of the 11 local players participating did so in supporting roles, but as part of elite units.

“I tell you what, it’s a lot easier to do your job to the best of your ability, because you’re not worried about trying to focus on two or three people’s jobs. You only have to worry about your job, because you can trust the guy next to you is going to do his job,” Magaraggia said.

West took one more lead on a short run from Schultz midway through the second quarter before Briones hit Cole Potvin (Manistique) and Mitch Laurin (Ishpeming) on twin TD passes in the last 2:15 of the half.

After LaBerge’s field goal with 1:06 left in the third, West had three straight turnovers and a three-and-out.

“Just a couple of rough plays here and there, but overall we did a pretty good job on offense,” LaBerge said.

Harris, who will also play for NMU starting this fall, was named the West Offensive MVP. North Dickinson’s Brad Gustafson was the Defensive MVP and Jake Allen of Kingsford received the Character Award.

In addition to practices and Saturday’s game, the players participated in skills challenges, built new friendships and even traveled to Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay for football fun and fellowship.

“Everything about the week was great. I used to think it was just about the game, but when we went to Bay Cliff to help the little children, that was really touching for me and I greatly enjoyed that,” LL-H’s Chuck Heckel said.