Rockets blitz Warriors, roll to title game

RAPID RIVER – At times, it may have seemed like Rapid River senior quarterback Jake Pearson was a one-man wrecking crew in Saturday’s Division 9 (eight-man) state semifinal football game.

While this year’s Upper Peninsula Small School Offensive Player of the Year did plenty of damage, his teammates also did their part as the Rockets romped to a 40-8 triumph over the Kinde North Huron Warriors.

The victory sends the Rockets (12-0) to Friday’s state champiion contest at downstate Greenwood (near Grand Rapids), where they’ll face Peck (12-0) at 7 p.m.

Pearson rushed 37 times for 359 yards and three touchdowns and completed 2-of-5 passes for 46, both for TDs, and an interception.

His first TD aerial of 22 yards to senior Pat Pryal gave the Rockets a 6-0 lead with two minues, 33 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Warriors (8-4) mounted a major threat late in the opening frame as senior quarterback Kyle Case scampered 58 yards to the left on a keeper before Pryal caught him on the Rapid River 23-yard line.

“I saw him get away from our line, and I was on the other side of the field,” said Pryal. “I knew I had to go after him. I didn’t know if I’d catch him before he got into the endzone, but there’s a reason why our coaches tell us to never give up on a play. You never know what can happen.”

That drive, however, stalled on the 23 as the Warriors were unable to convert on their next four plays.

“It’s a big boost anytime we can stop somebody after a long run,” said Pryal. “We don’t like to give up a big run, but the main thing is we didn’t let them get into the endzone.”

The Rockets responded with a 77-yard drive, climaxed on Pearson’s 37-yard run off the left tackle for a 12-0 cushion midway through the second frame.

“A lot of attention goes to Jake and rightfully so,” said Rockets’ assistant coach Paul Brunngraeber. “Yet, without Pat we’re not the same team. Pat is a guy who hustles on every play. Many times this season we’ve made a big stop after giving up a big play.”

Rapid River added three TDs in the final 2:26 of the second quarter. Pearson broke a tackle, then dashed 79 yards for a 20-0 advantage, then scored on a QB sneak for the next score. He then added a buzzer-beating 24-yard pass to junior David Hough, who side-stepped several defenders near the goal line and raised the count to 34-0.

“All the credit goes to No. 7 (Pearson),” said North Huron coach Travis Fischer. “We tried to wrap him up, but he’s big, strong and fast. He didn’t do anything we didn’t expect him to do. We just didn’t make enough plays on defense.”

Pryal ended Rapid River’s scoring on a one-yard run off the right tackle with 1:37 remaining in the third stanza.

The Rockets finished with 459 yards in total offense, including 413 on the ground.

North Huron rushed for 205 of its 212 yards. Senior Brandon Moore gained 136, including a 10-yard TD run to the left side, late in the contest against Rapid River’s reserves, on 19 carries. Case added 77 yards rushing on 11 attempts and was 1-of-8 passing.

“We’re not happy with the end result, but I thought we had a real good season,” said Fischer. “The guys gave a great effort all year.”

Rapid River played without junior Mike Casey, who suffered a concussion in a 50-21 conquest of Engadine in a regional final on Nov. 8.

Also, a member of the officiating crew from the St. Ignace area was forced out of the contest with a severe hamstring injury late in the fourth stanza.