By Michael Bleach
For The Daily News
L'ANSE - To simply label L'Anse's 34-28 playoff victory over Forest Park as "coming back from difficult circumstances" would be a strong disservice to the 26 Purple Hornets suited up at Meadowbrook Field on Friday night.
Michael Bleach/Daily Mining Gazette Photo
Forest Park’s Adam Hilberg dives at L’Anse’s Brandon Kemppainen during Friday’s Division 8 pre-district playoff game.
There was junior quarterback Jacob Ostermeyer, mouth gaping, sprinting over to the bench after his game-winning 32-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jonny Magaraggia with 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
There was the student section, piling over the single rope separating the fans and the field after Jimmy Veker sealed the win with his second interception in two drives.
And there was senior running back Cody Goldsworthy, who despite running for 136 yards already on the night, decided to lead his team with one more scamper to dive head first in the shin deep puddle behind the endzone.
"That was the happiest moment of my life," Ostermeyer said.
"To beat a powerhouse like Forest Park is just the best feeling in the world," Veker said.
"Oh man, all the momentum swings and the ups and downs, that was wild," L'Anse coach Mark Leaf said. "The way we fought back after some turnovers, we got some big plays and our kids never quit."
With just over three minutes left in the contest, it appeared that the last game L'Anse will likely ever play in Meadowbrook would end the way it always does against the Trojans in the first round of the MHSAA playoffs - with the opponents listening to a we-had-a-great year speech and pondering what-could-have-beens.
Forest Park took a 28-26 lead with 6:37 remaining in the game after a 52-yard catch and run from junior Austin Snell, and then got the ball back two plays later when L'Anse fumbled the snap. Though the Trojans couldn't score from the L'Anse 43, they turned the ball over at the 15-yard line with 3:07 left in the contest and Leaf out of timeouts.
Facing a third-and-13 from their own 40, Leaf went to a gadget wide receiver pass play, that the Trojans read correctly and picked off as Veker threw deep.
The L'Anse defense held stiffly on the first two downs, however, and Trojan coach Bill Santilli surprisingly elected to pass on a third-and-eight with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Veker made him pay.
The junior broke quickly on an out route and tipped the ball to himself, to give L'Anse one more chance with 55 seconds to go and 34 yards from the endzone.
"I was just making a break and hoping I got the ball," Veker said. "And then 'Please, please catch the ball,' while it was in the air."
After a quick two-yard out to wide receiver Jeffrey Roth, Ostermeyer went for it all and hit Magaraggia perfectly in stride between the safeties.
According to Leaf, Magaraggia made an adjustment on the fly when he saw the safeties split wide.
"At one point I saw a little gap between the two safetys and I took it. I saw the ball coming right over the top, so I just stuck my hands out there and Ostermeyer put it right in my hands," Magaraggia said.
The Hornets and Trojans exchanged the lead five times over the 48 minutes, and combined for nine total turnovers.
L'Anse defensive back Gaven Picciano led the way with three interceptions, while Veker got his hands on two.
"This was a very exciting, back and forth football game," Santilli said.
"Like a 15-round bout and whoever was left standing would be crowned the champ.
"We hurt ourselves with turnovers, and losing Derek Aberly at the start of the fourth quarter was tough."
Aberly left with a knee injury. He was leading the Trojans with 15 tackles through three quarters. He also rushed eight times for 60 yards and had an interception.
"He was our Mr. Do Everything," Santilli said.
For L'Anse, the fact that this all came against Forest Park - they of six straight trips to the state championship game in the last decade - made the comeback even sweeter.
"We battled adversity, against the power house team in the area," Ostermeyer said. "We just wouldn't let ourselves lose. It was an awesome game."
"They have the model program in the U.P., for us to be able to beat a program like that is just a huge thing for our football program," Leaf added.
Forest Park 6 8 8 6 - 28
L'Anse 6 6 6 16 - 34