By MIKE DUNN
For The Daily News
GRAYLING - The Kingsford Flivvers made several big plays here Saturday in the Division 5 pre-district playoff opener. It wasn't enough, however, as high-powered Grayling made numerous big plays of its own and parlayed those into a 42-25 victory in a thrilling slugfest of a game.
Michael Dunn Photo
Kingsford junior quarterback Joe Hofer (7) releases the ball as Jake Coughlin (70) blocks blitzing Viking linebacker Michael Branch.
The Flivvers trailed 28-13 at halftime and 35-19 in the fourth quarter before coming back to trim the lead each time. A 44-yard connection from scrambling junior quarterback Joe Hofer to streaking Brody Sundquist down the left sidelines brought the Flivvers to within 35-25 in the fourth quarter but that was as close as they would get in this one.
Kingsford ends its season with a 7-3 mark. Grayling (9-1) advances to take on Menominee (10-0) for the district title. The Maroons took care of business in a big way in their pre-district opener, outscoring Houghton 63-6.
Longtime Kingsford coach Chris Hofer told his players how proud he was of them and their effort in a brief huddle after the game.
"You came down here and played your hearts out," Hofer said. "You have nothing to hang your heads about. You gave it everything you had and that's all anybody can ask."
Hofer commended Grayling in a subsequent interview.
"They're a classy outfit; they run a nice program and they played better than we did today," Hofer said. "There really isn't much more you can say."
Grayling coach Tim Sanchez was also complimentary of the Kingsford program following the game.
"Coach Hofer always has his team prepared and those kids are very tough physically and mentally," Sanchez said. "Every time we pulled ahead of them today they came right back. Their kids played very hard."
The Vikings surged to a 14-0 lead, scoring on two of their first three possessions as senior quarterback Jake Swander connected with Tyler McClanahan for touchdown strikes of 11 and 50 yards. McClanahan would catch 10 passes on the day for 191 yards.
The Vikings were looking to strike for the third time midway through the second quarter when Flivver cornerback Jaxson Ferree provided the first big play for the visitors, stepping in front of a sideline pass to McClanahan and racing 75 yards the other way to suddenly change the complexion of the game and trim the deficit in half with one electrifying defensive play. The PAT boot made the score 14-7 with 6:43 left in the first half.
The Vikings, undaunted, moved down the field to put points on the board again on their ensuing possession, with Swander hitting McClanahan for 9 yards to cap a 60-yard march.
A sack of Swander on first-and-goal from the 10 temporarily put the Vikings on their heels but they came back to get the touchdown anyway and go on top 21-7.
The Flivvers responded quickly when sparkplug running back Alex Patterson burst through a hole created by center Gabe Rowell and guard Drake Griggs and raced 74 yards to bring the ball to the 1-yard line.
On the next play, fullback Tyler Roberts powered over to make it 21-13. The Vikings were off-side when the Flivvers lined up for the extra point and Hofer opted to go for two points instead. The conversion failed, though, and the score remained 20-13 with 3:43 left until halftime.
On the first play of Grayling's subsequent drive, Swander found the ubiquitous McClanahan again, this time for 27 yards, to spark another scoring drive. Michael Branch finished from 10 yards to make the score 28-13 at intermission.
The Flivvers forced a three-and-out from Grayling to start the second half and then scored on their first possession to trim the lead to 28-19. Hofer hooked up with Sundquist twice, the latter catch setting up a 4-yard sweep by Patterson for the TD. The two-point try failed.
The Vikings made it 35-19 with 6:43 left in the third quarter when Swander fired his fourth TD pass, this time to Brandon Latusek in the corner of the end zone. Cole Tengesdahl had Latusek covered like snow on an evergreen and very nearly wrestled the ball away from him. Latusek made an outstanding play to hold onto the ball.
The Flivvers' final TD of the game and the season came after another big defensive play when junior lineman Hugh Harris, who played a whale of a game, blocked a punt to give his team the ball in Viking territory early in the final quarter.
Four plays later, on fourth-and-11 from the 44, Hofer scrambled in the pocket to buy time while Sundquist slipped past his defender down the left sideline. Hofer managed to get the ball to him and Sundquist didn't stop until he crossed the goal-line. The two-point conversion failed again, though, and the Flivvers trailed 35-25.
The Vikings finally put the game away with a time-munching 18-play, 80-yard drive. Swander capped this one himself with a 3-yard keeper.
The Flivvers had one final possession but were not able to move the ball.
Swander hit on 18-of-36 aerials for 263 for the Vikings. Two of their running backs each had more than 150 yards rushing: Kevin Harris motored to 155 yards on 17 carries and Branch amassed 152 yards on 13 attempts.
Joe Hofer completed 11 of 18 passes for 200 yards and Patterson rushed for 117 yards on nine attempts.
Harris and Roberts had fumble recoveries for the Flivvers to go with Ferree's interception return for a touchdown.
NOTES: The Flivver defense turned Grayling away twice in the red zone in the game. Sacks on consecutive plays by Harris and Roberts with help from sophomore Nick Pilot thwarted one drive, and a fumble recovery by Harris ended the other drive Three Kingsford drives ended inside the Viking 15-yard line. Hofer completed fourth-down passes to Trever Schaut and Jack Glodowski that came up short and McClanahan intercepted a pass at the 5-yard line to end the other drive.
Kingsford 0 13 6 6 - 25
Grayling 7 21 7 7 - 42
G - Tyler McClanahan 11 pass from Jake Swander (Kevin Harris kick), 7:47.
G - McClanahan 50 pass from Swander (Harris kick), 9:36.
K - Jaxson Ferree 75 pass interception (Tyler Waisanen kick), 6:43.
G - McClanahan 9 pass from Swander (Harris kick), 4:13.
K - Tyler Roberts 1 run (run failed), 3:43.
G - Michael Branch 10 run (Harris kick) 1:53.
K - Alex Patterson 4 run (run failed), 7:41.
G - Brandon Latusek pass from Swander (Harris kick), 3:41.
K - Brody Sundquist 56 pass from Hofer (pass failed), 8:53.
G - Swander 3 run (Harris kick), 2:50.