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Monday February 26, 2024
Negaunee Battles West Catholic; Falls In Title Game

DETROIT---For a while there, the Negaunee High School was in perfect position to shock the world and slay the dragon.

The Miners were going toe-to-toe against heavily-favored Grand Rapids West Catholic in the MHSAA Division Six state championship game at Detroit's Ford Field.

Negaunee, 20 years after winning their last state championship, gave up a 72-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Varnesdeel to Carter Perry on the first play of the game. Then, in the second quarter, they fell behind, 14-0, on another touchdown pass fromVarnesdeel to Perry, this time from 32 yards out.

But the Miners did not give up. On the final play of the first half, sophomore quarterback Ty Jacobson heaved one up in the corner of the end zone to senior Phil Nelson. Nelson, who was double-covered, lept in the air and made an outstanding nine-yard touchdown grab. He also kicked the extra point, making it 14-7 at halftime.

That touchdown was set up by a trick play: a reverse flea-flicker for 32 yards with Jacobson hitting tight end Eli Van Buren down to the two-yard line.

Then, on the second half kickoff, Nelson received the ball at his own two yard-line. He sprinted down the field for a 98-yard touchdown, the third-longest in MHSAA Finals history. Nelson booted the PAT kick, and the Negaunee crowd was chanting “U.P. Power” and wildly jumping up and down. It was a 14-14 game.

But from there, everything fell apart for the Miners, especially thanks to the running of Timmy Kloska, who is an NCAA-Division One recruit and will be playing at Air Force. He scored four touchdowns in the second half on runs of 61, 16, 3, and 13 yards, and ended up with 241 yards on 14 carries.

Varnesdeel threw another long touchdown pass, 68 yards to Andrew McCarthy, as the Falcons (13-1) scored 31 third quarter points after Nelson's tying touchdown.

“We ran out of gas,” Negaunee coach Paul Jacobson said after the game. “We played toe-to-toe with them for a half, Phil had a great return to start the second half. I don’t know if we woke a sleeping giant. It was a combination of that, and we kind of ran out of gas. Then they rolled that second half on us.”

West Catholic had 520 yards of offense, and its 59 points set an MHSAA record for points scored in an eleven-man state championship game. The Falcons won their sixth state championship in school history, and the first since 2017.

The Falcons defense was also dominant, hassling Ty Jacobson with an aggressive blitzing pass-rush that also shut down Nico Lukkarinen's running game from the fullback position.

Lukkarinen had 40 rushing yards on 16 carries, and Kai Lacar had 45 yards on 18 carries. Jacobson completed 7-of-12 passes for 78 yards for the Miners.

“I’m just proud of these guys, the way they battled adversity,” Coach Jacobson said after the game. “They battled a ton of different stuff this year. Just the ups and downs, they were able to stick together. We really preach a family mentality, and they stuck together through and through. I’m proud of these guys.”

Negaunee is staying the night in Detroit and will be coming home to the Upper Peninsula on Saturday morning.

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