Prep football: Negaunee strikes quick, dominates both lines
NEGAUNEE – If the Negaunee Miners keep dominating on their offensive and defensive lines, as they did Friday night against the Gladstone Braves, they’ll have plenty of success this season.
The Miners were impressive on both sides of the ball in a 38-0 non-conference victory at Marble Field, spoiling the Braves home opener and putting both teams on very separate paths. Negaunee improved to 3-0 while Gladstone fell to 0-3.
“We got better as a team from last week. We made some improvements,” said Negaunee coach Paul Jacobson. “I thought the guys executed very well on offense and defense.”
Gladstone actually dominated time of possession in the first half, with two prolonged drives of over six and a half minutes, but the Braves were unable to finish either drive with points on the board.
“That’s one thing I preached at halftime and will preach to them all next week,” said Gladstone coach Cody Kangas. “Our offense can move the ball and get good yardage, but we need to work on those 3rd-and-5s and 2nd-and-8s. It’s upsetting we didn’t get more yards there. Those situations aren’t that bad. We can definitely work with that.”
Negaunee didn’t need long on either of their three first-half possessions to find the end zone. Fullback Tyler LaJoie had first half touchdowns of two and 31 yards, and added a second-half touchdown run of 47 yards, finishing a total of 156 yards. The Miners outgained Gladstone 318-95 in total offense.
Gladstone went backwards on its first possession of the game, after an illegal block penalty set them back. A drive that began on the 27 yard line, ended with Gladstone punting from their 13.
That set up Negaunee firmly in Braves territory, starting out from the 37. Three LaJoie runs later the Miners were on the board with an 8-0 lead.
With LaJoie’s big performance, quarterback Ryan Syrjala was able to capitalize on the play-action fake. He was 4-of-5 for 85 yards including big gains of 31 and 37 yards to Zane Radloff.
“Ryan is young. He’s learning and continuing to get better. I like his leadership ability,” said Jacobson. “He leads the team well and commands the huddle. He’ll only continue to get better for us.”
Syrjala’s arm came as nothing of a shock to Kangas.
“It didn’t surprise me. He’s actually a very close family friend of ours,” said Kangas.
“I knew how well he could throw. I wanted him to run. We wanted to stop LaJoie, which meant (Ryan) carrying the ball, but he only carried maybe one time, so our gameplan didn’t go according to plan.”
In the first quarter, Gladstone got down to the MIners’ 16 yard line before two straight incomplete passes from Jared Hunter turned the ball over on downs. In the second quarter, the Braves drove down to the Miners’ 25 yard line with time winding down, before Hunter threw a pass that was picked off by Kevin O’Keefe.
Hunter was 7-of-17 for 38 yards and 15 yards rushing. Riley Ballard rushed for 15 yards on six carries and Tyler Wells carried nine times for 20 yards. Sam Pouliot caught six passes for 29 yards.
“Gladstone came out, and they have some good athletes,” said Jacobson. “They’re a young team and Cody’s going to do a good job in Gladstone. We took advantage of some opportunities on our side of the ball and made the most of them.”
LaJoie had a spectacular 70-yard kickoff return in the second half, in which he was wrapped up at least twice and broke the tackle each time to score. The play was called back however, due to a holding penalty.
Gladstone is set to host Menominee in their Great Northern Conference opener Friday night. Kangas said he’s ready to go.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I know Menominee is a physical team but we’re going to be ready to go.”