WAKEFIELD — It was a game the Gogebic players will want to talk about when they come back for their class reunions.
And it was the kind of game that left a satisfied smile on coach Mark Mazzon’s face a long time after it was over.
The Gogebic Miners overcame the heat, their own mistakes and an evenly-matched Hancock Bulldogs team and won an exciting 28-26 season-opener in overtime at Cardinal Field on Saturday.
Gogebic’s Jess Mazzon scored the game-tying touchdown in the only overtime and Paul Buerger capped off a big day with a game-winning two-point conversion run.
Mazzon knew the game was important, because the Miners needed to replace 19 of the 22 starting positions from 2012 and this was their first test.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Mazzon said. “We lost eight or nine two-way starters from last year and you can’t tell what you have from a scrimmage. With as many players that we had with no experience, it was a critical win. It came down to the wire. We were just lucky enough to stop them on their extra point kick (in overtime) and we made our two-point conversion.
“Coach K (Kuklinski) had told them it would come down to ‘gut-check’ time on who wanted the game the most and they stepped it up. They were dying—it was so hot. But it was a great team victory.”
Buerger, a junior captain, who rushed for 128 yards and was all over the field on defense, said the wild win would pay dividends down the road for the inexperienced Miners.
“It was a great game,” Buerger said. “It was fun. This will help our confidence in the future. We have guys that haven’t really played before. After this, we feel like we can do almost anything. Morale is high, that’s for sure.”
The heat index on the field was 86 degrees, but it felt even warmer as the referees allowed frequent water breaks and players began to experience some heat-related problems in the two-hour, 45 minute game.
When Jess Mazzon ran a cross play to the left and scored from five yards out and Buerger plunged across the goal-line on the two-point conversion with 2:48 left in the third quarter, the pumped-up Miners appeared to be in the driver’s seat with a 20-14 advantage.
But nine seconds into the fourth quarter, quarterback Tanner Kearly, who is the son of Michigan Tech football coach Tom Kearly, found William Lucier open in the flats on a fourth-down play and he scampered 33 yards for a touchdown. The point-after kick was low and the game was dead-locked at 20-20.
Hancock didn’t take advantage of two Gogebic turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Gogebic matriculated downfield on a nine-play drive until it reached the Bulldog 22-yard line. Quarterback Ben Zielinski looked for Mazzon on a quick screen left, but Kearly stepped in front of the pass and returned the ball to Gogebic’s 28-yard line. After looking at the tape, coach Mazzon said the fact that Zielinski chased down Kearly from behind was a key factor in the victory.
“If he (Kearly) scores, we probably don’t win that game,” Mazzon said.
And then Gogebic’s defense rose up and three Miners sacked Kearly on a third-and-nine play.
But Gogebic gave Hancock one more opportunity to win it in regulation. A Miner fumble was major when it was recovered by Bulldog lineman Sean Patchin at Gogebic’s 48-yard line.
Hancock moved into Miner territory, but Kearly was picked off by Mazzon with 20.3 seconds remaining in the game.
It was overtime and Hancock had a decent kicker, while Gogebic did not. And on second down, Kearly found Lucier on his favorite flats pass and Lucier romped into the end zone.
Hancock found out why a kicker’s two least favorite words in the English language are “wide right” because that’s where their kicker booted the extra point.
Down 26-20, Gogebic went on offense from the 10-yard line with four plays to score. Mazzon ran his cross play to the left for seven yards and then sprinted three yards for a score that knotted the game at 26-26. The game came down to the 2-point conversion and Mazzon said Gogebic went back to its bread-and butter play, the fullback trap to Buerger.
Buerger hit the hole hard, kept his legs churning and moved the pile across the goal-line for a Miner victory.
The Gogebic sideline erupted.
Hancock coach, Matt Walter, had his explanation of what happened in overtime.
“I think we got discouraged about missing the extra point,” he said. “I think we let down. The kids were very tired and tried to fight through it. You know they have such powerful backs, very powerful backs and we just have to get tougher.”
But Mazzon gave credit to the line for paving the way to victory and to one player in particular at the end.
“Ashton Hocking had to go in for Tom Jackson at the end,” Mazzon said. “He was a pulling guard and threw the key blocks on the goal-line. He had his chance and proved himself. I’m happy for him.”
Mazzon added 84 yards on 11 carries and Buerger and Nick Cossi were on top of the tackle chart on defense.
Gogebic got on the scoreboard with 8:20 left in the opening quarter. Buerger broke through the middle of the line and out-ran the secondary on a 42-yard TD burst.
The Miners put up points in the second quarter when Zielinski fired a 35-yard pass to Mazzon near the right sideline with 6:53 remaining.
As one of the team leaders, Buerger was more than happy to give credit to his teammates.
“Jess (Mazzon,) Trent (Quade) and all the other backs were really moving today,” he said. “Our linemen are really strong and we’ve got Hunter (Reed), (Tom) Jackson and Nick Orlich up front that really make the fullback play go.”
The Miners (1-0) travel to the Superior Dome in Marquette to play Rudyard on Friday at 6 p.m.
Hancock 7 7 0 6 6 — 26
Gogebic 6 6 8 0 8 — 28
Han — Brandon Barnes 24 run (Jack Fenton kick, 8:58
Gog — Paul Buerger 42 run (pass failed), 8:20
Gog — Jess Mazzon 35 pass from Ben Zielinski (pass failed), 6:53
Han — Tyler Bailey 36 pass from Tanner Kearly (Fenton kick), 1:13
Gog — Mazzon 5 run (Buerger run), 2:48
Han — William Lucier 33 pass from Kearly (kick failed), 11:51
Han — Lucier 10 pass from Kearly (kick failed)
Gog — Mazzon 3 run (Buerger run) Han Gog
First downs 10 10
Rushes-yards 34-97 40-244
Comp-Att-Int 15-28-1 4-12-3
Passing yards 165 54
Total yards 262 298
Penalties-yards 6-30 4-20
Fumbles-lost 3-1 2-1
Rushing — Hancock, Brandon Barnes 21-97, William Lucier 5-17, Tanner Kearly 8-minus 17. Gogebic, Paul Buerger 20-128, Jess Mazzon 11-84, Trent Quade 3-16, Ben Zielinski 5-12, Colin Gagnon 1-4.
Passing — Hancock, Tanner Kearly 15-28-1-165, Gogebic, Ben Zielinski 4-12-3-54.
Receiving — Hancock, Tyler Bailer 6-71, William Lucier 3-57, Carl Kangas 3-24, Alex Hill 2-12, Brandon Barnes 1-12. Gogebic, Jess Mazzon 3-45, Kevin Lane 1-9.