By Keith Shelton
For The Daily News
FELCH - The North Central Jets' usually high-octane offense was missing a beat early on. But their physical and active defense kept them in Friday night's Class D district title game long enough for their shooting to come around.
The Jets held North Dickinson at bay, coming away with a 54-40 victory.
The Nordics were one of the few teams in the regular season to match up well with North Central, having won the first matchup and playing within four points in a loss later in the year. Jets coach Adam Mercier wasn't expecting anything different for this go-around.
"They've been a good matchup for us this year and played us tough in both games," he said. "I was happy our kids didn't overlook them, despite their record. That's a quality team we defeated on their home floor tonight."
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photos
North Central accepts the Class D District 126 championship trophy following Friday night’s Class D District 126 final against North Dickinson at Carl F. Lemin Gymnasium.
North Central’s Tyler Polfus (4) dribbles away from North Dickinson’s Derek Wagner (21) during Friday night’s Class D District 126 final against North Dickinson at Carl F. Lemin Gymnasium.
Despite the cold start, the Jets still had a 14-6 lead after the first quarter as they spread the ball around trying to find the hot hand or an open look.
"It was the first district championship game for a lot of these guys and there were some nerves," said Mercier. "A key for us is not to force shots and get good possessions. We weren't doing that in the first quarter."
Finally things started to click and after a 6-0 run early in the second quarter, North Central had a double-digit lead, which they held for the remainder of the game.
Still, it was a 26-15 game at halftime and the Nordics never quit. They lost starter Logan O'Neil to an apparent ankle injury in the first quarter and had to regroup, but coach Chris Mattson had a game plan and they stuck to it, to the best of their ability.
"We're very familiar with North Central and we know how explosive they can be, but we had a game plan to hold them to 55 points or less," Mattson said. "We thought if we could score 55 points we'd have a good chance."
The Nordics accomplished the first part of that blueprint but the tenacious Jets defense frustrated North Dickinson through at least three quarters.
Matt Schultz led the Nordics with 19 points. Cody Berg had nine rebounds to go with his seven points.
"It came down to them being a little bit better than we were on the defensive end," said Mattson. "They got some good stops and some nice blocks, they turned steals. And they had a nice little run in the third quarter where an eight point game because a 14-point game. That was kind of the pivotal point."
Seemingly sparking the Jets's run was freshman Caleb Martin who had a solid performance off the bench. He grabbed a steal in mid-air, then converted with a turnaround jumper. Then back on the defensive end, he came up with a big block, drawing chants of "he's a freshman!" from the North Central crowd. The swift moves started a 13-2 run that expanded the Jets' lead to 20.
Standing out in the fourth quarter was Trevor Ekberg and Travis Vincent who drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd. Vincent with a beautiful putback and hotly contested turnaround jumper over two defenders and Ekberg with powerful dunk. Vincent led the Jets with 14 points while Josh Granquist and Tyler Polfus scored 10 apiece.
North Central (20-3) advances to the Class D regional at Negaunee Monday night and will face Superior Central in the first game at 5 p.m.
"It's going to be a great battle," said Mercier. "They have size like us and match up almost toe-to-toe with us, they're almost a mirror image. Herb Jenkins has them playing really well at the right time. The kids will prepare hard. They understand they had a great game tonight but it's back to work tomorrow."
The Nordics (8-14) will say farewell to seniors Berg, Ken Pekarek and Dominic Christian.
"I had a nice talk with them as a team. It's never easy losing that last game," said Mattson. "I told them that they don't realize how often I hear from other schools how well our student athletes represent our school and it comes from our seniors. They're the type of kids that are great role models, kids you can look up to. It was an emotional time in that locker room and I thank them for everything they did."
N. Central 14 12 11 17 - 54
N. Dickinson 6 9 7 18 - 40
NORTH CENTRAL - Polfus 10, R. Granquist 8, J. Granquist 10, Vincent 14, Martin 6, Ekberg 6; FT: 0-8; F: 10; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Polfus 2.
NORTH DICKINSON - Pekarek 1, O'Neil 2, Wagner 5, Berg 7, Clark 6, Schultz 19; FT: 6-9; F: 14; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Wagner, Berg.