By Ben Murphy
Clare stood 43 yards away from the end zone as time expired on Saturday’s Division five regional championship football game. Zack Tyler fired an incomplete desperation pass on the game’s last play, ending the Pioneer’s bid for their first regional championship since 2009 and giving the Menominee Maroons the 28-21 win.
“Yeah it is tough, but we ended on a positive note,” Clare head coach Kelly Luplow said. “Everybody from team and everybody that went to the game knew that we had a chance to win that game. As far as effort and dedication to the playoffs it was as good as any team we’ve had. They just really bought in and prepared themselves in championship fashion. I’m extremely proud of them.”
Clare scored twice in the first quarter, giving the Pioneers a significant amount of momentum in the contest’s opening moments.
Menominee began the contest with the ball, but had to punt the ball away after a successful defensive stand by Clare. The Pioneers scored on the ensuing possession, using a 30 yard run by Tyler and a 22 yard jaunt by Jordan Gross to set up an eight yard scoring run by Gross. Logan Emery booted in the extra point to make it 7-0 with eight minutes to go in the first.
The Maroons answered quickly however, getting a 50 yard run by Devon Harris on a mini two-play drive. Evan Pohlmann tied the game with his first extra point of the contest.
The Pioneers got two long plays to set themselves up with a first-and-goal at the nine yard line, setting up James Simon running in from nine yards out. Emery booted in another extra point to make it 14-7 with 2:32 to play in the first quarter.
“We came out moving the ball really well,” Luplow said. “Our offensive line was blocking well, our backs were running and our quarterback was reading everything. We started off on a positive note and it gave us a positive feeling right from the beginning.”
The Maroons tied the game back up with 11:23 to play in the second quarter, capping off a nine-play 51 yard scoring drive with a 17 yard scoring run by James Brown. Pohlmann added his second extra-point of the contest to tie the game at 14.
Momentum began to sway in Menominee’s favor late in the half, as disaster struck the Pioneers. A Tyler to Ruby pass-play gave the Pioneers a first-and-goal from the three yard line, though due to much controversy were unable to convert for a go ahead score.
On Clare’s third-and-goal play Tyler lost control of the ball as he reached for the endzone, with Menominee alertly recovering for a costly turnover. To some it appeared he had crossed the goal line before losing the ball, though the officials ultimately ruled it a fumble.
“Back in 2009 we had a lot of breaks go our way when we beat them (in a 20-7 regional championship win), a couple fumbles and a couple misplays on special teams, everything went our way,” Luplow said, adding that it appeared to be a touchdown after watching the play on film. “Everything that went right for us in 09 went against us this year.”
Pohlman missed a long field-goal late in the half, but Menominee intercepted a Tyler pass just two plays into Clare’s next drive, setting up a Harris touchdown pass to Bryan Hines with 17 seconds to play in the half. Pohlman’s extra point gave the Maroons a 21-14 lead at the half.
The Pioneers tied the game with 4:05 to play in the third quarter, capping off a lengthy 16-play 89-yard drive with a Tyler-to-Brock Swan touchdown pass from 16 yards out. Emery added his final extra point of the night to make it 21-all.
Clare stopped Menominee on its next offensive possession, though a turnover on Clare’s next drive set up the Maroon’s game winning score.
One play after Menominee recovered it’s own offensive fumble, Harris fired a pass to Hines for a the go-ahead score with 3:02 to play in the game. Pohlman added his final extra-point of the night.
Clare reached as far as the Menominee 36 yard-line in its last ditch effort to tie the game, but a seven yard loss and Tyler’s incomplete pass ended the contest.
“I still believe had we had a little bit more time we would have put in another score,” Luplow said. “They just didn’t give us a lot of time to go down the field and score.”
Tyler finished the contest nine-of-17 passing for 125 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and added 108 yards on 15 tries on the ground. Gross ran 27 times for 175 yards and one touchdown. Ruby finished with five receptions for 87 yards and Swan had two catches for 24 yards and one score.
Mitch Greenacre led the defense with 15 tackles, Spencer Harrell had 14, Lee Cole had 10, Emery and Joe McGuire both added nine.
“I’m very pleased and impressed with the number of people that went north and supported us,” Luplow said. “We had a great following up there and that says a lot about our community and our program. We as a staff greatly appreciate it.”
Clare ends it’s season 9-3 with the loss while Menominee improved to 11-1. The Maroons play Grand Rapids West Catholic in the state semi-finals on Saturday.