HURLEY — Last year, Crystal Falls Forest Park stole a win from Hurley.
There were no thefts involved this year; the Trojans dominated the Midgets 31-14 in Friday night’s Great Western Conference game.
“They took one tonight, no question,” Hurley coach Scott Erickson said. “We usually don’t get pushed around here and we got pushed around here today.”
The Trojans were able to somehow knock off Hurley 13-12 last year despite the Midgets rushing for more than 450 yards. This year, Forest Park (3-0) scored 31 unanswered points after Hurley (3-1) started the game with a 6-0 lead.
The Trojans controlled Hurley’s lethal rushing game, were a nightmare to stop on offense with their typical quality backs that now includes a multi-dimension quarterback and just plain old frustrated the Midgets all night.
“We did sneak away last year,” Forest Park coach Bill Santilli said. “I don’t think anybody who was at that game felt we should have won. But tonight, I do feel we hung in there, went toe-to-toe and we probably made more plays than they did tonight. That’s the biggest thing right there, when you challenge your guys to play that assignment football. And offensively, we blocked, we hung onto our blocks, we ran hard.”
The night started on such a promising note for the Midgets.
Hurley’s Ronnie Nickel returned a kickoff 36 yards to the Forest Park 49. Two plays later, Hurley quarterback James Sukanen hit Jared Wendt for a 38-yard pass to the FP 9. Mitchell Maki ran it in from eight yards out and Hurley led 6-0.
“We started out great, opening drive and momentum was going good,” Erickson said. “They answered and we didn’t and then we didn’t have the ball the rest of the half.”
The Forest Park answer came on the ensuing drive that included a big pass play of its own, QB Jeff Johnson 36 yards to Austin Snell to put the Trojans on the Hurley 11. Two plays later, Raymond Tomasik ran three yards for a touchdown and Brett Smithson’s extra point made it 7-6 Forest Park, a lead it never gave up.
Santilli said the Trojans have started games slowly this year after not seeing game speed without the 11-on-11 practices the depth-challenged Trojans are used to. He gave his team credit for responding to Hurley’s fast start.
The Trojans forced a rare Hurley three-and-out and ground out a nine-play, 49-yard drive, capped by Lee Graff’s two-yard TD run. Forest Park went for two to get the lead to two possessions and Austin Snell rushed in for the 15-6 lead.
Hurley went three and out again and Forest Park pounced, this time scoring quickly, on a 60-yard pass from Johnson to Snell with 6:16 to go in the half. The two-point conversion made it 23-6 Trojans.
The Midgets finally re-entered Forest Park territory and got to the 14 on a 25-yard run by Mark Saari.
But the exchange from Sukanen to Roman Lupino was dropped and the Trojans’ Daniel Nocerini was there to recover it in a pivotal turnover at the FP 18.
“We were still down three scores. We would have been down two at that time,” Erickson said. “They’ve got four touchdowns; we’ve got two, it would have been three. We would have been in the ballgame, perhaps.”
The Midgets stopped Forest Park, but Hurley’s Mitchell Maki fumbled, this time recovered by Billy Ragio and Forest Park looked to score another touchdown on a Johnson pass, but they were called for illegal motion with 21 seconds left in the half.
Forest Park outrushed Hurley 130-63 in the first half.
The Trojans got the ball first in the second half and iced the game with a 5:31 drive that spanned 67 yards in 10 plays. It ended with Johnson hitting Ragio for a 15-yard touchdown. The conversion put Forest Park up 31-6.
“You’ve got to come out at halftime, make a stand and get the ball back,” Erickson said. “And we didn’t do that. It was a continuation of what was going on in the first half when they were chunking yardage and had a few fourth-down conversions and we just couldn’t hold them off 10 yards.”
Santilli said the Trojans’ goal was to eat clock with the three-possession lead.
“Once you do that, you can almost breathe a little sigh of relief and not have to play as aggressively as you want to, but maybe a little more consistent,” he said.
Forest Park was consistently great all night.
Johnson totaled 75 yards on the ground and 125 through the air. On third and inches in the first quarter, Johnson kept it up the middle and went 19 yards for a first down.
“Jeff Johnson is a good athlete,” Santilli said. “He brings that other dimension to us. He’s been running up the middle real well. We didn’t have to try to get him to the edge tonight. He can also get there. And when we have a run-oriented system where we have big backs and they’re pounding, it’s nice to be able to have that extra threat. Plus, he throws a pretty nice ball, too. Our linemen did a nice job of picking up the blitzing linebackers all night long.”
Forest Park’s Lee Graff had 94 yards and sometimes took the direct snap with success.
Overall, Forest Park outrushed Hurley 212-161 and outpassed the Midgets 125-96. Hurley’s 161-yard total was well under its season average of under 300 yards. The Midgets couldn’t sustain drives like it usually with the run and were frustrated offensively all night.
“Against the run, our young guys really stepped up tonight,” Santilli said. “Our linebackers really stepped up tonight. We blitzed and we tackled well. And I’m going to say, that’s a pretty good Hurley team. The way they’ve been chewing up yards and the way they’ve been doing things effectively, I’ve been very pleased with our overall performance.”
Erickson wouldn’t argue with that.
“They stuck on their blocks really, really good and we couldn’t get off them,” he said. “We tried to do some things, change some fronts and send some blitzes, but they were disciplined and their backs were tough to bring down and throwing those long passes, that meant for trouble.”
Hurley’s other touchdown came in the fourth quarter when Sukanen hit Wendt for a 33-yard score. The conversion pulled the Midgets within 31-14 with 8:32 to go. Hurley had another chance to score, but Sukanen threw an interception.
Saari ran for 86 yards to lead Hurley, which travels to undefeated Northland Pines Friday.
Forest Park 7 16 8 0 — 31
Hurley 6 0 0 8 — 14
Hur — Mitchell Maki 8 run (run failed), 9:55
FP — Raymond Tomasik 3 run (Brett Smithson kick), 5:55
FP — Lee Graff 2 run (Austin Snell run), 11:15
FP — Snell 60 pass from Jeff Johnson (Graff run), 6:16
FP — Billy Ragio 15 pass from Johnson (Graff run), 6:29
Hur — Jared Wendt 33 pass from James Sukanen (Mark Saari run), 8:32
First downs 15 12
Rushes-yards 42-212 36-161
Comp-Att-Int 5-6-0 5-9-1
Passing 125 96
Total yards 337 257
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 4-30 3-25
Rushing — Forest Park, Lee Graff 17-94, Jeff Johnson 9-75, Raymond Tomasik 11-40, Austin Snell 2-minus 1. Hurley, Mark Saari 15-86, Mitchell Maki 8-50, Roman Lupino 10-41, James Sukanen 3-minus 16.
Passing — Forest Park, Jeff Johnson, 5-6-125-0. Hurley, James Sukanen, 5-9-96-1.
Receiving — Forest Park, Austin Snell 2-96, Billy Ragio 2-22, Lee Graff 1-7. Hurley, Jared Wendt 3-87, Mitchell Maki 2-9.