FELCH - North Dickinson was an eyelash away from pulling off an improbable comeback against the St. Ignace Saints in Friday night's Division 8 regional final at James D. Priestap Memorial Field.
Having recovered an onside kick and attempting to throw a game-tying touchdown pass with less than 30 seconds to play, North Dickinson nearly erased a 26-0 deficit over the game's final 14 minutes when Ken Pekarek stepped back and lofted a 30-yard pass down the right sideline toward the waiting arms of wide-open Tim Hruska.
But All-U.P. Dream Team defensive back Curtis St. Louis, charging straight down the goaline from the middle of the field, got over in just enough time to extend a fingertip on the pass and break up the play.
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photo
North Dickinson’s Tim Hruska (28) hauls in a touchdown pass over the outstretched hand of St. Ignace’s Brennan Danielson (4) in Friday’s Division 8 regional final at Felch.
St. Louis intercepted Pekarek's next heave, and the Saints escaped with a 26-20 victory.
"If he wouldn't have (made that play) I probably would have had a heart attack on the field," St. Ignace coach Marty Spencer said. "He's supposed to make those plays, and he made a couple at the end to seal the victory."
St. Louis, who had two picks in the game, put the Saints ahead 26-0 late in the third quarter when he ran in his second rushing touchdown of the night, a 14-yard score.
But North Dickinson, after being shut out in the first half for the first time all season, came to life late in the game.
"We didn't quit," Nordics coach Joe Reddinger said. "And we dang near came back."
Pekarek and Hruska connected for 30 yards to get the Nordics on the board with 1:50 to play in the third quarter.
After forcing a three and out, the Nordics came right back. Dominic Christian, who led all rushers in the game with 104 yards on 18 carries, capped a quick drive with a 16-yard burst. Logan O'Neil's kick made it 26-14 with 10:24 to play.
St. Ignace answered by marching down the field and sucking most of the clock off the fourth quarter, but a fumbled snap on the six, recovered by Justin Clark prevented a score and kept the door open for ND.
Pekarek was picked by St. Louis on the next play, but the Saints couldn't do anything with the ball and had to punt.
The Nordics didn't waste the next chance and made a rapid march from their own 17 down to the Saints one-yard-line. Pekarek found Justin Clark and Matt Schultz for big pass plays on the drive, and then kept it himself from the one to bring North Dickinson with a score with 33 seconds left on the clock - setting up the dramatic finish.
"I thought we had good effort," Reddinger said. "We just dug too big a hole. In that first half they made some big plays and we didn't make any, and as a result, we didn't have points on the board."
St. Ignace's defense, led by linebacker Joe Ostman, forced two punts and stopped the Nordics on fourth down two other times, including foiling a fake punt attempt late in the first quarter.
"We've been good against the run all season," Spencer said. "I knew they had a great running attack, we needed to control it. I knew we couldn't stop it. They're too good. But we controlled that. Our defense stood up pretty good."
St. Ignace, led by 6-for-11, 127-yard first half passing by Tyler Snyder, scored on two of its first three possessions. Snyder found Parker Simmons for an 11-yard touchdown on the Saints' first possession. A couple of other big pass plays helped set up a St. Louis 15-yard run for the second touchdown.
"I thought our running game, we found a couple of plays that were working," Spencer said. "And we have a good passing attack. Overall, I thought our offense was excellent."
The Saints were led on the ground by Richard Bentley (16 carries, 97 yards) and Galloway Thurston (12 carries, 72 yards). Both seemed to conserve their best stuff for key down and distance situations to help the Saints keep the chains moving.
Despite the Saints first-half dominance, the Nordics had chances. St. Ignace's second possession was stopped near the goal line with a O'Neil interception, but the Nordics could only move the ball 30 yards before being stopped on a fake punt try from the 37.
A fumbled snap deep in Saints territory, recovered by Clark gave North Dickinson a golden opportunity to make it a one-score game right before the half. But the Saints stuffed the Nordics on a fourth and one from the 10, then proceeded to drive 90 yards in the final two minutes of the half, scoring when Snyder found Ostman for an 11-yard strike.
"Our defense stood up, and we took it 90 yards with some great offensive line play," Spencer said. "We have a lot of seniors who have played a lot of games. It showed on that drive."
St. Ignace couldn't add to its lead coming out of the half, despite driving down into the red zone again. Cody Berg picked off Snyder in the endzone. But the Nordics were forced to another punt following the pick, and that led to drive to put the Saints up 26-0.
"We had some trouble finding holes," Reddinger said. "They are an awful good football team. They're size was really a factor. I didn't think they were that big."
"I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage for the first three quarters," Spencer said. "We didn't give them any big plays until the fourth quarter. While we didn't really finish tonight, in the end we had enough to hold on.
"That fourth quarter was a credit to a good team in North Dickinson. They don't quit and they had a chance to win."
The Nordics finished the year 10-1. St. Ignace (12-0) moves on the a state semifinal against Beal City.
St. Ignace71360 - 26
North Dickinson00713 - 20
SI - Parker Simmons 11 pass from Tyler Snyder (Jake Dodds kick), 6:45.
SI - Curtis St. Louis 15 run (Dodds kick), 8:36.
SI - Joe Ostman 11 pass from Snyder (kick failed), 0:35.
SI - St. Louis 14 run (kick failed), 4:38.
ND - Tim Hruska 30 pass from Ken Pekarek (Logan O'Neil kick), 1:50.
ND - Dominic Christian 16 run (O'Neil kick), 10:24.
ND - Pekarek 1 run (kick failed), 0:33.
Total yards - St. Ignace 383 (246 run, 137 pass); North Dickinson 346 (241 run, 105 pass).
Rushing leaders - SI: Dick Bentley 16-97, Galloway Thurston 12-72, St. Louis - 8-71; ND: Christian 18-104, Matt Schultz 9-62, Tim Hruska 16-53.
Receiving leaders - SI: Ostman 3-50, Simmons 2-43, St. Louis 1-22, Cody Therrian 1-22; ND: Schultz 1-36, Hruska 1-30, Justin Clark 1-36.
Passing - SI: Snyder 7-14-137-2-2; ND: Pekarek 5-15-105-1-3.
Interceptions - SI: St. Louis (2), Brennan Danielson; ND: Logan O'Neil, Cody Berg.
First downs - SI: 17; ND: 15.
Penalties - SI: 2-20; ND: 3-30.