Jets advance to title game, win 36-12

North Central's Dillon Raab finds room to run during Saturday's Division 2 8-player semi-final win at Marion. (Ben Murphy photo)

Powers North Central just doesn’t lose. Even when the playing field is torn up. Even with temperatures hovering around the freezing line. Even with a steady wind and some snow flurries, the Jets found a way to get it done Saturday afternoon, winning their Division 2 8-player semi-final game, 36-12 over host Marion.

“I say they hate to lose, but they don’t know how to lose,” head coach Leo Gorzinski said. “We are 13 seniors deep and even when the chips are down, they always seem to make that play.”

With the win the No. 1 ranked Jets (12-0 overall) will head to the state title game for the third straight season, where the two-time defending state champions will take on sixth-ranked Mendon (10-2).

To get there, they had to outlast a third-ranked Marion team that certainly made life difficult. They only led by 10 points at the half and had to survive plenty of scares along the way to the win.

“Hats off to that (Marion) football team over there, that has been the toughest battle we’ve faced in three years, the toughest one we’ve had since we lost (November 2019), plain and simple,” Leo Gorzinski said. “Marion had a great game plan, they played hard throughout, and just, what a great contest, it was awesome.”

North Central’s Dylan Plunger (10) jumps in front of a Marion receiver for an interception during Saturday’s Division 2 8-player semi-final game in Marion. The Jets won 36-12 and will seek their third straight state title this weekend against Mendon in Marquette’s Superior Dome. (Ben Murphy photo)

Leading 22-12 early in the fourth quarter, North Central faced a fourth-and-eight at the Marion 39-yard line. The seldom-punting Jets went for it, and Luke Gorzinski tossed a pass over the Marion defense, to an open Dillon Raab. The pass was thrown just a bit long, but Raab got his hands on the ball, juggled it momentarily before hauling it in for a first down at the 28-yard line.

Two plays later, Luke Gorzinski tight-roped the right sideline, avoiding several tackles along the way for a 14-yard touchdown run. A booming extra point by Adrian Mercier made the lead 29-12 with 10:36 to play.

After the N-C defense forced a quick three-and-out, the Jets scored again; this time getting Lane Gorzinski to break free for a game-clinching nine-yard touchdown run. Another Mercier extra point made it 36-12 with 4:35 remaining.

“Marion came in with a great game plan,” Leo Gorzinski said. “Not going to make any excuses, but when Luke got a major charley horse right off the get go, that took away a little bit of his speed and they were geared to stop him. It just took us a little while to find a rotation and get back into our play calls that were going to work.”

The Jets also opened the scoring in the game, getting a Luke Gorzinski 21-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Gorzinski with 4:53 to go in the first quarter. They faked an extra point attempt, getting Raab to throw the ball to Jordan Messenger for a two-point conversion and 8-0 lead.

North Central's Elijah Gorzinski goes up to haul in a touchdown pass against Marion on Saturday. (Ben Murphy photo)

The Eagles had some big plays of their own, using the legs and the arm of quarterback Mason Salisbury to drive down the field. Salisbury scored from two-yards out, barely diving over the goal line to make it 8-6.

North Central scored on a pair touchdown runs by Luke Gorzinski in the second quarter, one from a yard out and the other from 36 yards away to lead 22-6 with just over two minutes to play in the half.

In the closing seconds of the second quarter, Marion connected on a long pass to get a first-and-goal situation. Salisbury capped it off, following the middle of his line for a one-yard touchdown run making it 22-12 at the half.

Marion had two promising drives in the third quarter that would have pulled them within a single score, but each time the Jet defense rose to the occasion.

“We were having some coverage issues in the first half of the game because their quarterback is a tough runner, and our defensive backs and linebackers were forced to key run, and were getting guys behind us,” Leo Gorzinski said. “At half time we had to go and explain to them to not let them behind and that seemed to shore it up. He got a couple of good runs on us, he is a great player, but once we shored up the back end everything else fell back into place.”

Luke Gorzinski finished 13-of-23 passing for 234 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran 21 times for 106 yards and three touchdowns. Lane Gorzinski had four receptions for 109 yards and 17 yards rushing and Raab had six receptions for 57 yards and he ran it 12 times for 60 yards. Dylan Plunger had one reception for 41 yards and Elijah Gorzinski finished with two receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown.

Raab led the defense with six tackles, Luke Gorzinski had five tackles, Messenger had 3.5 and Lane Gorzinski had three tackles. Plunger also had two tackles and an interception.

After surviving the long road trip and gritty Marion team, the Jets can now focus their attention on Mendon for Saturday’s state championship game at the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University.

“That is our playground,” Leo Gorzinski said. “We are fortunate enough that we have a lot of experience there and we love that surface. Right now, we will enjoy this one, get some treatment to heal up and get ready to go play on our turf.”


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