ESCANABA - Escanaba's season came to end Friday on a gloomy day and a muddy field, compliments of the top-ranked Kingsford Flivvers.
It mattered little to Kingsford that Escanaba had everything to play for - a victory could have sent the Eskymos to the postseason - The Flivvers defense stood tall and their running game worked to perfection.
In a game that was largely decided by the first quarter, Kingsford rolled 49-13 to win the Great Northern Conference outright at 4-0.
The Eskymos surely knew the Flivvers would hand the ball off to their star running back Reed Larson but he got his yards nonetheless, 193 of them on 22 carries.
Larson had two big runs of 32 and 16 yards on the Flivvers' opening drive, before scoring on a 7-yard burst through the line as Kingsford's big offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and overpowered the Eskymos.
The Flivvers forced Esky into a three-and-out on their first possession and the punt was shanked, going straight up into the air and traveling maybe ten yards.
Kingsford started in Eskymo territory and it initially looked like the Escanaba defense would get a stop as Larson was held to small runs. But the Flivvers took the air as quarterback Caleb Harrington launched a 16-yard touchdown pass to Aidan Wienke.
Things quickly got out of hand from there.
Escanaba (4-5) lost a fumble on their next possession and Larson scored again seven plays later. Harrington then intercepted a pass from Esky quarterback Dave Falish on the first play of Escanaba's ensuing possession and ran it back 39 yards for another score.
Kingsford (8-1) led 28-0 with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
"We prepared hard and had an absolutely great week of practice," said Kingsford coach Chris Hofer. "Our kids worked hard every day. We had some guys down but we had some other kids step up. We were just ready. Our kids wanted to come out and play well."
Escanaba was held to just one first down in the first half and it was a costly one, as Falish, looking hurt from the beginning of the game, took a shot on a fourth down run and left the game midway through the second quarter, giving way to Travis Heller.
Falish returned to start the second half and under a running clock, and down 42-0, he got Escanaba on the board on a 69-yard blast toward the end of the third quarter.
"When you're a quality player, it doesn't matter where you're at, you have a target on you," said Escanaba coach Jim Hansen. "(Dave) is a quality kid and I'm very happy for him. He showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness - both to himself and his teammates."
WIth Kingsford largely playing reserves for the majority of the second half, the Flivvers were still able to score a final touchdown in the fourth quarter as reserve running back Tony Lorenzoni took it on himself on five straight carries, including a 3-yard score.
Throughout the game, Kingsford simply did what they do best. Play hard-nosed defense and control the line of scrimmage.
"It's been our MO all year," said Hofer. "We've always been able to start drives with real nice field position which is a credit to our special teams and defense. It sure is nice to have that on a night like tonight where it's hard to put something long together.
"We were able to capitalize early and that really helped us."
Escanaba responded on their final drive, handing it off to Trevan Wendrick, who really came on for the Eskymos late in the season. Wendrick blasted off for 60 yards, displaying an incredible burst of speed and giving Escanaba cause for optimism next season.
After the game, Hansen gave pause to reflect on that these Eskymos have accomplished.
"I love this team," he said. "They worked really hard and did everything we asked of them and more. I'll never forget their contributions to this school and this program. That's a special group of kids and we'll never forget them.
"They're team 116 and they'll be special forever."
Kingsford will find out their playoff opponent Sunday during the MHSAA selection show on Fox Sports Detroit at 6 p.m. EDT.
(Keith Shelton is with The Daily Press of Escanaba)
KINGSFORD28 14 0 7 - 49
ESCANABA 0 0 7 6 - 13
K - Reed Larson, 7-yard run, kick good, 9:43
K - Aidan Wienke, 16-yard reception from Caleb Harrington, kick good, 4:13
K - R. Larson, 2-yard run, kick good, 0:52
K - Harrington, 39-yard interception return, kick good, 0:28
K - Larson, 19-yard run, kick good, 8:56
K - Cole Tengesdahl, 0-yard fumble recovery, 3:05
E - Dave Falish, 69-yard run, kick good, 1:43
K - Tony Lorenzoni, 3-yard run, kick good, 3:42
E - Trevan Wendrick, 60-yard run, kick failed, 1:12
Total Yards - Kingsford, 301 (282 rushing, 19 passing); Escanaba, 202 (200 rushing, 2 passing)
Kingsford - Reed Larson (22-193); Cole Peterson (6-8); Caleb Harrington (2-8); Sean Ryan (6-36); Tony Lorenzoni (5-36).
Escanaba - Dave Falish (11-82); Michael Shields (1-1); Travis Heller (9-44); Trevan Wendrick (3-61); Jake Walker (5-12).
Kingsford - Caleb Harrington (2-2-19-0)
Escanaba - Dave Falish (1-3-2-1); Travis Heller (0-1-0-1)
Kingsford - Aidan Wienke (2-19)
Escanaba - John Brant (1-2)