State Champions: Forest Park dominates Shamrocks, wins 8-player state title

Forest Park’s Peter Ropiak, left, holds the Division 2 eight-player state championship trophy after beating Portland St. Patrick 54-12 on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Marquette, Mich. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

MARQUETTE — Forest Park christened its young eight-player football tradition with its first state title after dominating Portland-St. Patrick 54-12 in the Division 2 final on Saturday.

“These kids don’t know the difference between 8-man and 11-man. They’re out there competing. They’re out there being the best that they can be,” Forest Park head coach Dave Graff said. “For them to turn the page here and do it in style where they have a sophomore middle linebacker who bench presses 115 pounds and runs a 5.5 40, a corner who’s 5-foot-5 and runs a 5.5 40. It’s like we’re doing it with people who are young, inexperienced and yet they come out here and get better every week. They just have a new tradition, an 8-man tradition at Forest Park and it’s good for them.”

Forest Park approved the transition to eight-player football at an Oct. 1, 2015 at a special board meeting, much to the disappointment of residents who wanted to see the program’s rich 11-player history continue. The Trojans appeared in the Division 8 state final seven times in the 2000s, winning in 2007.

But the large presence of Forest Park fans at Saturday’s state final showed the community’s embracement of eight-player football. The amount of fans didn’t go unnoticed by Graff, who said winning a state title in the UP at the Superior Dome was special.

“I’ve been to the state finals at Ford Field probably eight, 10 times and I tell you what, this sure is the sweetest,” Graff said. “You get to stay in your own bed, you get to have somebody else travel up here and here we are, look at all the fans that we had here today. It was fantastic. All of our local coverage, our local press is here and these guys are mingling with all their families and friends, it’s fantastic.”

The Trojans (10-2) piled 481 rushing yards on 52 carries (9.2 yards per rush). They also held the Shamrocks (11-2) to just 44 net rushing yards on 24 carries (1.8 yards per carry). The Shamrocks lost 47 yards.

Trojans running back Peter Ropiak had touchdown runs of 59, 56 and 46 yards. He finished the night with 275 rushing yards on 16 carries (17.2 yards per carry) with three scores. Connor Bortolini finished the night with 197 yards on 32 carries (6.1 yards a carry) with four touchdowns.

“We run the ball. That’s what we do. Our strength was our offensive line going into it,” Graff said. “We knew that our offensive line can move people. They didn’t let us down. We pass the ball when we have to. Today was strictly Bortolini and Ropiak and running behind the guys up front. Hats off to our offensive line for the way they played and keeping the defense on the bench — that’s how we like to play.”

Forest Park never attempted a pass in its 52 offensive plays.

Shamrocks quarterback Tanner Lawson completed 8 of 19 passes for 125 yards and an interception. His pass to Will Simon with 8:39 left in the first quarter made it an 8-6 game. The Trojans responded with 40 unanswered points on touchdowns by Connor Bortolini and Peter Ropiak.

Portland-St. Patrick fell short in its first appearance in the state finals. Last year, the Shamrocks were bounced in the regional final by Wyoming Tri-unity Christian. The Trojans’ rushing attack overwhelmed the Shamrocks on Saturday, coach Patrick Russman said.

“Crystal Falls had a great rushing attack we had some issues with,” Russman said. “Defensively they did a nice job taking away some of the things we wanted to do early and then we just didn’t get a real good rhythm going on offense that would’ve took some pressure off our defense. We’ll look at it, we’ll get better but definitely appreciate the efforts of our seniors and everything our upperclassmen did all year long.”

Bortolini also had six tackles along with Tommy Showers. Showers also had a sack with a tackle for loss.

Graff said the Trojans’ defense, with an advantage of size on the line, kept a high level of energy throughout the game.

“Defense, we have to get the guys in the right spot and they flew around today,” Graff said. “We had guys that just liked this atmosphere. They started feeling the confidence after a couple series and the butterflies are gone and all of a sudden they’re starting to play like gangbusters.”

Forest Park 16 20 12 6 — 54

Portland-St. Patrick 6 0 6 0 — 12

First Quarter

FP — Connor Bortolini, 5-yard run (2-pt good), 10:13

PSP — Will Simon, 19-yard pass from Tanner Lawson (2-pt failed), 8:39

FP — Bortolini, 6-yard run (2-pt good), 4:32

Second Quarter

FP — Bortolini, 23-yard run (2-pt failed), 11:54

FP — Bortolini, 7-yard run (2-pt failed), 3:42

FP — Peter Ropiak, 58-yard run (2-pt good), 1:26

Third Quarter

FP — Ropiak, 56-yard run (2-pt failed), 9:33

FP — Ropiak, 46-yard run (2-pt failed), 3:51

PSP — Isaiah Smith, 1-yard run (Jeff Davlin kick missed), 0:00

Fourth Quarter

FP — Calvin Post, 1-yard run (2-pt failed), 6:02