CRYSTAL FALLS - When your high school team is still playing football in November, that's a good thing.
But playing Crystal Falls Forest Park in their own backyard in your opening playoff game, that's not so good.
A perennial powerhouse since the 1970s, Forest Park stayed unbeaten with a 30-16 victory in the MHSAA Division 8 pre-district playoff game on Friday night.
The score didn't indicate just how close or hard-hitting the game really was.
"First of all, I''m very thankful to come out on top in a game like this," CFFP coach Bill Santilli said. "The level of play from whistle to whistle was something else. It was as hard-hitting as they come. I was impressed by the staunchness and aggressiveness of Gogebic. They had a great performance tonight and they almost completed their mission and beat us."
Gogebic coach Mark Mazzon knows that the playoffs can be one-and-done, but he was proud of how the Miners played.
"We couldn't play any better except for a few mistakes," Mazzon said. "We worked so hard and I couldn't be more proud. The kids played with great heart. You don't like to see kids cry, but there were kids with tears in their eyes, because it hurts. We were so close to winning.
"But I'd like to give credit to Crystal Falls Forest Park-that's a very good team that makes very few mistakes and has won a lot of games."
The first game between Gogebic and Forest Park was a high-scoring affair, so Santilli was anticipating much of the same in the rematch. But the first quarter ended in a stalemate at zero.
"It's very difficult to beat a good team twice, but Gogebic had us so well-scouted," Santilli said. "It seemed like they knew everything we were going to do."
But with 11;26 remaining in the second quarter, CFFP's scat-back Austin Snell hit the off-tackle hole, bounce off two tacklers and raced 62-yards to the north end zone. The conversion run failed with the Trojans up 6-0.
Lee Graff followed that up by bouncing an off-tackle play outside and sprinted 40-yards down the sideline for a score. The conversion was converted for a 14-0 advantage and CFFP looked like the rout might be on.
But all year, Gogebic been a team that doesn't give up or doesn't back down. Ben Zielinski got the hot hand and rainbowed a pump-and-go pass to Jess Mazzon that resulted in a 75-yard TD score. Collin Gagnon caught the conversion to make it 14-8 with 5:15 left.
Zielinski ended his high school career going 12-26 for 267-yards. Kevin Lane and Mazzon combined to catch 10 passes.
"Zielinski was really on target," Santilli said.
With 14 seconds left in the half, Jeff Johnson found Snell for a 13-yard score and CFFP led 22-8. Santilli said he thought the score before the half was an important one.
Zielinski hooked up with Kevin Lane for a touchdown at the 8;54 mark of the third quarter and Mazzon's conversion reception narrowed the lead to 22-16. Lane has really come on for the Miners as the season has progressed.
Gogebic threatened again in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans pounded in one more TD to put the game on ice.
Gogebic ends their season with an overall record of 6-4 and Mazzon and his coaching staff said goodbye to 11 seniors. Almost all of them were totally inexperienced starting the season but stepped it up and made solid contributions to a playoff year. Thomas Jackson and Ben Zielinski were recently selected to the Great Western Conference All-Conference team and Zielinski was the conference's Punter of the Year.
"I've complimented the seniors from the beginning of the season," Mazzon said. "The seniors and the team has exceeded expectations."
But the cupboard will not be bare next year for the Miners. 11 sophomores and juniors will return and many held down starting positions this season.
The Trojans are now 10-0 and will play another home game against L'Anse in the Division 8 Region 1 final on Nov. 8-9.
Gogebic 0 8 16 0 - 16
CFFP 0 22 0 8 - 30
CFFP - 61 run Austin Snell (Run failed), 11:26.
CFFP - 40 rush Lee Graff (Graff Run), 10:45.
GOG - 75 pass Ben Zielinski to Jess Mazzon (Collin Gagnon rec), 5:15.
CFFP - 13 pass Jeff Johnson to Snell (Pass Johnson to Daniel Nocierni), 0:14.
GOG - 14 pass Zielinski to Kevin Lane (Mazzon rec.), 7:54.
CFFP - 13 Gaff run - (Johnson run), 6:54.
Rushing Atts/yards 23-13 47-293
Comp/Att/Int 12-26-3 2-15-2
Passing yards 267 24
Total yards 280 317
Rushing -Gogebic, Paul Buerger, Jess Mazzon, Ben Zielinski, Collin Gagnon (no individual rushing stats) . CFFP, Austin Snell 9-80, Jeff Johnson, Lee Graff 28-198.
Passing - Gogebic, Ben Zielinski, 12-26-267. CF-FP, Jeff Johnson 2-15-24.
Receiving - Gogebic, Jess Mazzon 4-97, Kevin Lane 6-104, Collin Gagnon 1-48. CFFP, Austin Snell 2-24.