MHSAA Division 8 football: Nordics’ comeback falls short at Forest Park

CRYSTAL FALLS – For the eighth time in the past 10 seasons, the Forest Park Trojans will play in a state football semifinal.

Surviving an inspired comeback attempt by the North Dickinson Nordics, unbeaten Forest Park held on for a thrilling 24-20 MHSAA Division 8 regional title victory Friday evening at Dick Mettlach Field.

“It was just two evenly matched teams,” said Trojans coach Bill Santilli, who has coached the Trojans to wins in six of the previous seven state semifinals appearances. “You can never breathe a sigh of relief with North Dickinson. They’re so explosive. They just make plays.”

ND, with Noah Berg hauling in six catches for 194 yards and three touchdowns, refused to go away after falling behind 16-0 in the first half and 22-12 in the third quarter.

Berg’s third TD, a quick strike from Logan O’Neil on a crossing pattern that went for 71 yards, followed by a two-point conversion, brought the Nordics within 22-20 late in the third.

But the big-play magic ran out on the final drive of the game, as Nordics’ bid to reach the end zone for a game-winning score in the final seconds came up 37 yards short.

ND wound up with two chances at a game-winning drive. The first, after forcing a late punt out of Forest Park, began pinned at their own 1-yard line with 2:17 to play. O’Neil tried to pass from his own end zone on third-and-6 but had nowhere to go. He flung a short pass to the turf and was flagged for intentional grounding, a safety since the penalty was committed in the end zone.

But the Nordics took the ball right back with an onside kick recovered by Brad Gustafson. ND had the ball at its own 32 with 1:14 to go and one timeout. ND managed to pick up two first downs and cross midfield. With 5.4 seconds left, on fourth and 15 from the 47, O’Neil passed to Berg on a hook-and-ladder. Berg flipped the ball to Matt Schultz along the sideline, but there was nowhere for him to run as the game ended.

Forest Park, held scoreless by the Nordics’ defense on three drives in a row after taking a 16-0 lead at 9:18 of the second quarter, finally found traction in fourth quarter. A methodical nine-play, 52-yard march ate half of the fourth-quarter clock before Lee Graff crammed the line and extended the ball across the plane for his second touchdown of the game.