Four takeaways from a wild Week 6

10/8/2019 | Column | By Bryce Derouin
Bryce.Derouin@TheUpbeatSports.com

W hen it comes to marquee matchups, Week 6 was one of the best in the UP so far. There were four games between teams ranked in the previous Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Poll, and each contest had major conference implications.

Here are four things that stood out this past weekend.

1. Escanaba's power run game

No. 3 Escanaba (5-1) failed to get much going on the ground in the first half of its 26-20 win over No. 2 Menominee (4-2). The Eskymos tallied just 37 yards rushing as they ran predominantly spread formations in the first half. Near the end of the second half, Escanaba started to show a wing-T look, which would foreshadow more tight formations to come in the second half. 

By using multiple backs in the backfield with two tight ends, Escanaba gained 134 yards rushing in the second half. And after the Eskymos’ fourth interception, they kept the ball on the ground for the final 13 plays to gain 108 yards. 

“We came up with a different formation at halftime and questioned our toughness at the half,” Escanaba coach Dave Howes said of the adjustment. “We were just trying to get Josh Bruntjens the ball in space on cutbacks. That really helped.”

Bruntjens finished the game with 145 yards and three TDs on 24 carries (6.0). He had a highlight-reel worthy 39-yard TD run to tie that game at 20 when he cut back, made multiple defenders miss before stiff-arming his way into the end zone. Near the end of the game, Escanaba was content with pitching it to him along the left side and letting him plow forward. His 6-yard TD with 5:05 left gave his team a 26-20 lead. 

“Our line is one of the best lines in the whole UP,” Bruntjens said. “They have the best stamina of any line and just don’t give up. I could look across at Menominee and see their linemen’s faces were getting a little bit red, and my line was still like, ‘We gotta go,’ so we just kept pushing.”

Escanaba’s spread is dangerous because of the size and athleticism it has at the skill positions. Bryant Maki and Grant LaMarche are two of the biggest receivers in the UP, while Bruntjens and Tyler Lawson are threats in the short to intermediate passing game. Plus, Dayton Miron showed his playmaking ability in the win over Menominee, taking a 28-yard screen pass for a score just before the end of the first half. 

But it says something about a team who can also straight up run you over. Menominee was gassed near the end of Thursday’s game, and Joe Noha admitted as much, saying, “Towards the end we wore out.” And as inclement weather becomes more frequent later in the season, Escanaba knows it can be effective if its spread element isn’t suited best for the conditions. Plus, at the very least, it gives teams another aspect to plan for during the week.

2. Top backs make big plays

We already discussed the impact Bruntjens made in Escanaba’s win, but the other two candidates for All-UP Dream Team running back honors also performed well in their team’s victories. 

Caleb Evosevich-Hynes led Iron Mountain (6-0) with 86 yards rushing on nine carries, but it was his 62-yard gain that ignited the Small School No. 1 Mountaineers in their 15-14 win over Large School No. 1, Calumet (5-1), on Friday. 

Evosevich-Hynes, who may be the only person with an easier name to type than pronounce, gained 62 yards on Iron Mountain’s third play from scrimmage when he ran through an attempted arm tackle and got the edge before he was tackled at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Marcus Johnson snuck it in for a 7-0 lead.

With the limited resources of high school football, there’s no way for me to look up if that was the longest play Calumet has surrendered this season. But for a defense that entered allowing just 6.8 points per game, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was. 

Evosevich-Hynes has proven to be one of the UP’s top big-play threats. In the 42-0 win over Bark River-Harris, he needed just two carries to record 154 yards and two TDs. During Iron Mountain’s other close game this season, a 17-14 win over Negaunee in Week 1, Evosevich-Hynes set up his team’s two TDs with a 73-yard punt return and a 38-yard gain on a sweep. 

“He’s a playmaker. We want to get the ball in his hands,” Iron Mountain coach Robin Marttila said of Evosevich-Hynes. “Calumet is stout everywhere and he just made a great play. He has that capability.”

On Saturday, it was West Iron County’s Nathan Thomson’s turn. The WIC back ran around and through numerous Lake Linden-Hubbell tackle attempts to finish with 135 yards rushing for two TDs and a 64-yard TD reception in the No. 2 Wykons’ 24-16 victory over No. 5 LL-H (3-3).

Thomson got the scoring started when he ran into a group of LL-H defenders, only to break free from their grasp for a 46-yard TD. What looked to be a moderate gain turned into a momentum-swinging score. 

“I didn’t see much. Just had to keep the feet moving and happened to get loose,” Thomson said.

Following his display of power, Thomson used his elusiveness for his other two scores. He spun out of an attempted tackle near the line of scrimmage and coasted in for a 13-yard TD. Then, he grabbed a pass over the middle before turning upfield and making a cut back to the middle for the 64-yard TD catch.

“He’s unbelievable with how many big plays he made today,” WIC (5-1) coach Mike Berutti said of Thomson. “I also want to credit some of our blocking up front. Lake Linden was playing eight, nine and sometimes 10 guys in the box, and our line was able to cover our assignments and give Nathan a seam. And once he has a seam, he can go.”

Strange and memorable happenings

It was an eventful weekend for extracurricular activities in the UP this past weekend.

First, there was this on Thursday.

Then this happened on Friday. 

Let’s start with the latter. 

I didn’t see it, but I trust Jake to be truthful with what he puts out in the public and the fact the kid in question didn’t necessarily deny the claim with his reply to the tweet makes me think this was a real thing — for as strange as it sounds. 

Couple things here:

I never understand why football players think throwing a punch AT SOMEONE WHO IS WEARING A HELMET is ever a good idea. Whenever I see an NFL or college preseason camp fight and the punches start flying while donning a helmet, I question the progression of our society. So what’s the solution? Well, not to fight is the obvious answer, but if you’re going to let your frustrations let loose, maybe go for a body slam or something that has a lower risk of fracturing a body part. At least you’re wearing pads and can absorb the blow. But again, not fighting is the right answer here. 

I can’t get the image of a high school football player wrapping a ref in a headlock out of my head. It’s part hilarity and part unbelievable. On a serious note, officials deal with enough vocal criticism as it is; they should not be subjected to any sort of physical abuse. I hope the kid at least apologized for his actions. 

The Howes incident I actually saw, well most of it anyways. Let’s set the scene. 

Menominee went for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 24 with a 20-14 lead with 4:16 left in the third quarter. Gutsy, but OK. Keagan Monroe took the snap and powered forward, landing somewhere by the 26 for a first down, and that’s where the ball was placed. First off, the Escanaba coaching staff thought that was a generous spot and let the officials know about it. Then, when the measurement was conducted to award the Maroons a first down, the Eskymos’ sideline really lost it, going out on the field to protest the way the refs measured for the first down.

“They brought the chains out and I didn’t think they brought it out the correct way,” Howes said. “I thought one of the officials didn’t have the chain down when they pulled it. It was still in the air and it gave them the first down.”

After the initial protesting of the first down died down a bit, some of the assistant coaches were still vocal as Joseph Romero-Haire completed a 36-yard pass to Jonathon Spiegel. When the flag was thrown at the Escanaba bench, I thought one of the assistants was going to be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Except it was for Howes.

With Howes believing the officiating crew made a call based on a procedural error, he mentioned to the side judge, “It’s things like that that affect your rating,” referencing the rating system the MHSAA uses from the coaches to evaluate its officials.

“I guess you can’t say that with MHSAA rules,” Howes said. “He threw a flag on me, head ref came over, asked if I said something about the rating, and I said, ‘Yes I did.’ And he tossed me out.”

Is there a chance Howes actually did say something more vitriolic and was just telling a reporter the rosy side of it to make him in a better light? Sure, I acknowledge that possibility. It’d be difficult to corroborate his story since refs decline to speak after games, let alone about controversial issues. But I was on one side of the exchange, while Upbeat co-founder Eden Laase was on the other side of Howes during the discussion, and neither of us heard Howes say anything derogative to the officials. He’s well-known for an even-keeled demeanor and he kept the same composure throughout the conversation with the refs, so I’m willing to take him at his word with his side of the story. 

And if that’s the case, it’s a tough way to be ejected, which will force him to miss Friday’s matchup at rival Gladstone. I’ve seen far worse actions take place on a football sideline without repercussion, so this seemed a bit random and underserving. I mean, it’s not as if he put a ref in a headlock.

Playoff picture taking shape

Iron Mountain was the first team to reach the six-win mark and ensure a playoff berth. West Iron County (5-1), Escanaba (5-1) and Calumet (5-1) will likely do the same in the coming games. But with only three weeks, left, there are eight 4-2 teams who can qualify by winning two of their next three games, and Kingsford, St. Ignace and Gladstone are each 3-3 and have to win out to clinch a postseason bid. 

Here is the list of 4-2 teams. You can also throw in LL-H as needing two wins. With the Lakes at 3-3 and one of the smaller schools in the UP, it’s likely they can get to 5-4 and still earn an at-large bid.

  • Sault Ste. Marie
  • Menominee
  • Hancock
  • Westwood
  • Ishpeming
  • L’Anse
  • Negaunee
  • Bark River-Harris

Out of those teams, No. 5 Negaunee has the most straightforward path to six wins after its 36-14 win on Friday over Small School No. 3 L’Anse. The Miners host Gogebic (0-6) on Friday before welcoming Houghton (2-4) the following week. Then it’s the rivalry showdown at Westwood in Week 9. 

The Patriots could have their own playoff spot secured by then. They play at home against L’Anse on Friday and then travel to Gogebic the following week. 

The toughest road? L’Anse, who is at Westwood, then home versus Iron Mountain and hits the road to Calumet to close the season. Those three opponents have a combined record of 15-3. Ouch. 

Bryce Derouin

Co-founder
Bryce is a co-founder of Upbeat. He earned his journalism degree from Grand Valley State and served as the sports editor for three years at the Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton after working one year as a sports reporter at the Daily Press in Escanaba.

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