STEPHENSON - The North Central Jets came into Friday night's game hoping to come away with a win and earn a playoff spot. Instead, they received a heavy dose of the Stephenson Eagles' running game as they fell 35-6.
The offense got going right out of the gate for the Eagles, as TJ Raether bursted through the line for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
North Central followed up with a good drive, marching all the way down to the Eagle's 14-yard line. However, they couldn't convert on fourth down, and Stephenson took over.
Eagles quarterback Austin Grinsteiner connected with Travis Wangerin on a 40-yard pass, and then Nolan Lukasik punched it into the end zone on a 22-yard touchdown run to give his team a 14-0 lead.
In the second quarter the defense for both squads made impressive stands, and it looked like neither team was going to put up any more points heading into halftime. But North Central quarterback Rob Granquist was determined to get his team back within striking distance. He completed a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was highlighted by a 33-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Estrada, who made an unbelievable diving catch in the end zone to make the score 14-6.
The defense held fast again in the third quarter, as neither team could put together a scoring drive. However, on the final play of the quarter, the Eagles' Lukasik found an opening and ran the ball for 37 yards before he was pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
With the opening play of the fourth quarter, Grinsteiner ran it in for the touchdown to put the game nearly out of reach.
The following drive by the Jets ended in a three-and-out, and their punt was returned almost 80 yards all the way to the house. However, there were two offsetting penalties on the play, and the touchdown was nullified.
The penalties only delayed the Eagles, as they ended up driving the ball 66 yards for a score that was topped off by a 14-yard touchdown strike from Grinsteiner to Wangerin.
Stephenson's quarterback had one more score before the evening ended, as he ran it in past Jet defenders for an 8-yard touchdown. The Eagles added the extra point to put them ahead 35-6, and the game was all over but a little time remaining on the clock to say otherwise.
"I thought we played well all night and I thought we hit well," said Eagles coach Chad Brandt, who said he feels confident about his group heading into the playoffs.
"They've played hard right to the end, and if we continue to prepare and get after it, I like our chances," Brandt added.
North Central coach Kevin Bellefeuil said that at times they played well against Stephenson, but mistakes cost them in the long run. But the Jets are a young team that is learning and getting better every day, and regardless of a playoff berth, they are excited for the future.
"Five wins with this team was pretty good, given our schedule, and we're pretty happy to be where we are," he said. "I don't know if we're going to make it into the playoffs, but we'll watch the (MHSAA Selection) show Sunday night and find out."
(Justin Marietti is with The Daily Press of Escanaba)
NORTH CENTRAL 0 6 0 0 - 6
STEPHENSON 14 0 0 21 - 35
S - TJ Raether, 80-yard run, kick failed, 11:47
S -Nolan Lukasik, 22-yard run, 2 pt. failed, 4:55
NC - Andrew Estrada, 33-yard reception from Rob Granquist, 2 pt. failed, 1:11
S - Austin Grinsteiner, 1-yard run, 2 pt. failed, 11:58
S - Travis Wangerin, 14-yard reception from Austin Grinsteiner, 2 pt. good, 6:46
S - Grinsteiner, 8-yard run, kick good, 4:19
Stephenson, 359 yards (Raether, 14-190); (N. Lukasik, 15-117).
North Central, 161 yards (R. Granquist, 9-32); (Vincent, 4-32); (J. Granquist, 9-30); (Woodrazka, 10-28).
Stephenson, (Grinsteiner, 4-9-0-74).
North Central, (R. Granquist, 8-17-0-97).