Pearson’s legs, arm paved way to title game

RAPID RIVER – It’s on to the state finals later this week for the Rapid River football team.

The Rockets made that possible by eliminating the Kinde-North Huron Warriors 40-8 in a Division 9 (eight-man) semifinal contest on a windy and rainy Saturday.

They will head downstate to Greenville (near Grand Rapids) for Friday’s championship game against Peck. The contest, featuring two 12-0 teams, is set for 7 p.m.

All-Upper Peninsula Small School senior quarterback Jake Pearson led the Rockets by rushing for three touchdowns and passing for two.

“Jake’s a real good guy and an even better person,” said senior Pat Pryal, who scored a pair of TDs. “We always get along good.”

The state title contest was originally scheduled to be played in the Superior Dome in Marquette had the Rockets won.

In recent weeks, however, the Michigan High School Athletic Association decided to hold the game at Greenville regardless of who was playing.

“We’ll play the state title game no matter where it is,” said Rockets’ assistant coach Paul Brunngraeber. “It is what it is. It’s out of our control.”

Weather conditions were similar, but not quite as dark and dreary as last year’s semifinals in which the Rockets fell to Bellaire 20-16 in a mid-afternoon contest which almost seemed more like a night game.

“Field conditions were better going into this game,” said Brunngraeber. “It didn’t start raining as early. It also didn’t come down as hard as last year. These weren’t the greatest conditions, but both teams played in it.”

North Huron senior running back Brandon Moore was the center of attention for Rapid River’s defense, which limited him to one TD.

“We kind of keyed in on him,” said Pryal. “We put Jake on him whenever they were in pass formation. They’re a good team. We had to be on top of our game for all four quarters.”

Moore rushed 19 times for 136 yards, with the majority of those coming in the fourth quarter against Rapid River’s reserves.

“Our young guys did a nice job when they were in there,” said Brunngraeber. “I think this is the best defense we played all year. I thought we had a great week of practice.”

This marked the first time at linebacker for freshman Mason Berglund, who also finished the contest at QB in relief of Pearson.

“Mason did a great job in his first game at linebacker,” said junior Steve Johnson, who collected 14 tackles. “This was definitely a learning experience for him. Our defensive line did a real good job and Pat definitely had a game-changing play.”

Johnson was referring to a play late in the first quarter on which Pryal caught North Huron’s Kyle Case on the Rockets’ 23-yard line, ending a 58-yard dash by the senior QB. The Warriors then came up empty on their next four plays.

The Rockets completely seized control by scoring three times in the final 2:26 of the second frame, including Pearson’s 24-yard TD pass to junior David Hough at the halftime buzzer.

“The whole first half, they hung around,” said Brunngraeber. “Then, our linemen began to wear them down. It was a huge boost for us to score at the half and a big letdown for them.”

At Greenville, the Rockets will play on artificial turf as they did in the state finals at the Superior Dome two years ago (in a 59-20 loss to Carsonville-Port Sanilac).

“I think it will be fun,” said Johnson. “Having already played in the Dome as freshmen, we know what it’s like. We’re definitely looking forward to going down there.”

For Pryal, this will be his first experience on that type of surface.

“It doesn’t matter where the game is played,” he said. “Either way, we have to stay focused. We didn’t know for sure where it was going to be played anyway. We’re just glad to have this opportunity.”