MHSAA Division 8 football: L’Anse eliminated in district finals by Forest Park

CRYSTAL FALLS – Forest Park went scoreless for nearly three quarters after grabbing an early 16-0 lead, but held off L’Anse 16-9 to capture yet another Division 8 district football championship Friday.

The title – the Trojans’ 10th in the past 11 seasons – was won with big defensive stands. Forest Park protected a one-touchdown advantage.

“We had our backs against the wall for several possessions,” Forest Park coach Bill Santilli said. “All in all, I have to give our defensive effort an A-plus.”

Connor Kezerle’s interception at the 5-yard-line stopped the Purple Hornets’ final threat at the 4:29 mark of the fourth quarter. The Trojans (11-0) were able to run out the clock from there, with quarterback Jeff Johnson gashing the L’Anse interior to key the clinching drive.

Lee Graff carried the bulk of the load for Forest Park on a slick turf at Dick Mettlach Field, rushing for 142 yards and one TD.

Austin Snell’s 20-yard scoring sprint followed by Johnson’s conversion pass to Daniel Nocerini lifted the Trojans to a 16-0 cushion early in the second quarter. The yards came tougher after that.

“We came out with a different look on offense and before L’Anse could adjust, we were able to establish a good ground game,” Santilli said.

The Purple Hornets (8-3) came to life just before half-time. Jimmy Veker flipped a jump pass from the halfback position to Jonny Magaraggia, who weaved 74 yards through the Trojans’ secondary to make it 16-6.

A 33-yard field goal late in the third quarter from U.P. Dream Team kicker Ryan LaBerge made it 16-9 and the nail-biter was on.

Snell’s touchdown return on the ensuing kick-off was erased by penalty. The Purple Hornets soon threatened, driving to the Forest Park 33 before being stopped by the first of Kezerle’s two interceptions.

L’Anse came back once more, getting a first down at the Trojans’ 22, only to see Kezerle again come through with a pick.

“I never took my eyes off the guy I was covering,” Kezerle said. “I kept watching my guy. When his eyes lit up, I turned around and the ball was there and I caught it.”

L’Anse quarterback LaBerge finished 6 for 17 for 103 yards.

“We tried to play power football and we did just enough,” Santilli said. “This team is not always dominant, but we just seem to make plays when we need to.”