The Miners gained 183 of their 263 first-half yards in just the five games that resulted in points as they defeated the Hematites 49-14 in dominant fashion.
Negaunee (5-0) earned his fourth straight blowout win this season and third straight win in the rivalry next door against the Hematites.
Ishpeming (2-3) has lost three games in a row after opening the season with back-to-back shutout wins and now needs to turn the tide to qualify for the MHSAA tournament.
“We know Ishpeming have a good football team and I think they have talented kids and are pretty good in attack.” Negaunee coach Paul Jacobson said. “We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start.
“We’re lucky that we held up well on the defensive end and controlled the 50 (-yard line) for most of the first half.”
After the Miners defense built offense inside Ishpeming territory, Nico Lukkarinen took 31 yards for a touchdown on his first carry and Negaunee’s third play handoff.
Ishpeming then turned the ball around on downs after scoring a first down with a long run from quarterback Hunter Smith and returned the ball back to the Miners in good field position.
This time, on the second pull of the drive, Lukkarinen again went untouched down the middle for a 45-yard TD.
“Right now it’s just the execution, up front we’re starting to communicate really well,” said Jacobson. “The boys can talk, they’ve been together for two years and this is the beginning.
“Nico will run hard, no question. I was impressed by how hard Nico, Easton (Palomaki) and Kai (Lacar) ran tonight.”
Smith was knocked out with an injury while playing defense that run, and Ethan Corp came in to command the Hematite offense for the rest of the game.
After his third possession, Ishpeming got a short punt to hand the ball back to Negaunee on his 45. After slashing the Hematites’ defense with fullback Lukkarinen, the Miners faked him, but instead QB Ty Jacobson found Eli VanBuren’s tight end the seam wide open for a 55-yard TD reception. In an efficient first quarter, the Miners rushed six plays for 141 yards and three points to take a 19-0 lead.
The Miners weren’t done with their offense yet, getting Palomaki and Lacar going in the second quarter. Lacar broke up a 20-yard run while another catch for VanBuren, this time for 21 yards, set up Palomaki for a 4-yard touchdown. Palomaki also ran in the 2-point conversion to give Negaunee an 8-18 lead before halftime.
With just over three minutes into the half, Lacar ran wide and appeared to have no blocking assistance, but made a move to step through a tackle, putting it 48 yards into the end zone. Palomaki ran in another 2 pointer to make it 35-0.
“Our duties and responsibilities were lined up for most of the game, but it’s not just about being aware of your responsibility, it’s also having the heart for it.” said Ishpeming coach Cody Kugler. “I challenged the kids in our postgame conversation about what’s next because we know Negaunee is bigger (sign up) than us and you need to have that heart and desire to do more to come up with their size in the to be game.”
The Miners started the second half with the ball, and on the third play, Palomaki missed a 49-yard run for his second TD. The next time the ball was in possession, the Negaunee running game continued to hum, even with a few changes. This time it was Chase Bonovetz who broke free for a 26-yard score to make it 49-0.
With a clock running, the Hematites controlled the rest of the game with freshman Grady Gauthier’s tough run.
He didn’t typically play, but the young defenseman capitalized on his game time in the second half, leading the game with 107 yards and 19 carries.
To round off an eight-play drive, Gauthier hit from 9 yards in the closing seconds of the third quarter to put Ishpeming on the scoreboard.
NHS scored TDs in each of his first seven times he’s had the ball but poked at his only possession in the fourth quarter. Ishpeming started his next drive in midfield, marching down in a long 14-play drive with 11 Gauthier carries. On the 3rd-and-goal, Corp hit from ten yards away, leaving 1:17.
The Miners’ three-headed monster in their backfield had just 19 carries combined but 252 total yards and five TDs with their limited but efficient work.
Lacar led the team with 88 yards on eight carries and one TD, Lukkarinen finished with four carries for 82 yards and two points, and Palomaki had seven carries for 72 yards and two TDs.
Since a narrow season-opening victory over an Iron Mountain team now 4-1, Negaunee has faced little resistance in their last four games.
The Miners are off to a great start, but Jacobson is still trying to improve.
“Just one week at a time, we have to keep getting better,” said Jacobson. “We keep telling these guys, ‘Remember where you were two years ago.’ That was the COVID year these guys had the opportunity to see these guys play and the tremendous amount of leadership in that group and they set the tone for the sophomores who are now seniors.
“We set goals early in the spring for where we want to be eventually, but we have to remember to keep it week at a time and keep getting better.”
Negaunee looks unbeaten with a home game against L’Anse on Friday, while Ishpeming will look to get back to .500 at Gwinn.
Travis Nelson can be reached via email at [email protected]