By Ben Murphy
A disastrous third quarter turned what had been a close game into a runaway 35-21 win for Freeland over visiting Clare on Thursday, Aug. 29 in both team’s non-conference football season opener.
“The Freeland game every year is a typical first game where which ever team that makes more mistakes gets beat,” Clare head coach Kelly Luplow said. “That just happened to be us this year.”
Clare trailed just 14-6 into the third quarter, but a Matt Formsma three yard run and Collin Kubiak extra point put the Falcons up 21-6 with 6:52 to go in the frame.
Then, on Clare’s ensuing possession Josh Beltz picked off an errant Colton Punches pass and returned it 53 yards for a scored and tacked on another Kubiak point after touchdown to make it 28-6.
Clare, forced to punt out of its own endzone on the next drive had its punt blocked by Charlie Ferens and recovered by Ryan Richter in the end zone for a touchdown. Kubiak drilled in another extra point to make it 35-6, seemingly in the blink of an eye of a five minute span in the third quarter.
Clare put together its best quarter in the fourth however, piecing together a pair of scoring drives to make the final closer.
First, Jordan Gross scored on a two-yard run with 11:55 to play in the game, with an added Punches two-point run in to make it 35-14.
Gross scored again with 3:27 left to play on a seven yard run, and Clare converted the extra point to make the final 35-21.
“We had some kids step up and play really well and our kids never quit,” Luplow said. “We scored twice in the fourth and they still had their first string in. It wasn’t like we were scoring on their reserves. When we weren’t dropping passes and having turnovers, we moved the ball pretty good. Too many turnovers (Clare had 3) will get you every time.”
The Pioneers opened the night’s scoring in the first quarter, with Punches running in from six yards out just five minutes into the game to put Clare up 6-0.
“We moved the ball right down the field, we had a heck of a nice drive and scored first,” Luplow said. “Gross had the majority of the yards, the lineman were getting off the ball strong and they didn’t have an answer for us early in the game.
“Of course, they came right back and put their own drive together,” Luplow added. “Then it was a combination of when you get down and with the heat and humidity, it’s hard to overcome that stuff. It’s always easy for a team to handle the weather conditions when you’re ahead. When you start getting behind it really becomes a difficult thing.”
The Falcons answered with nine seconds left in the quarter, getting a five-yard scoring run by Jake Kankoska and Kubiak’s first extra point of the night to take a 7-6 lead.
Freeland did the only scoring in the second quarter, on a Josh Schlak 21-yard run, with Kubiak connecting on the extra point to put them up 14-7 at the half.
“A lot of times this game has been closer but this year was just a matter of them catching some breaks and us turning the ball over,” Luplow said. “Plus we had a lot of new kids and a lot of new kids playing new positions. It was a brand new experience for a lot of kids. We’re disappointed but we’re not hanging our heads. There’s a lot of football to be played and I feel good about that.”
Gross ran the ball 15 times for 156 yards and two touchdowns to lead the offense and Logan Emery ran four times for 28 yards.
Punches finished five-of-17 passing for 98 yards and two interceptions and added 61 yards and one touchdown on 15 tries on the ground. Joe Huston had two catches for 69 yards to lead the receivers.
Joe McGuire led the team with 12 tackles, Emery had 11, Lee Cole had 10, Tyler Gillespie had nine, with Seth Harton and Gross both bringing down eight.
Clare (0-1) hosts Beal City (1-0) tonight (Friday) in the first game at the newly remodeled Brookwood Stadium. The Aggies are coming off a 61-0 win over Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart last week. Beal City won last year’s meeting between the teams 31-13 and the Aggies went on to lose in the division eight championship game.
“We’re pretty excited about it, we expect a big crowd and it’s a nice local rivalry,” Luplow said. “We’ve had a nice program going and they have too for years. They’re a very good team and it’s going to take a great effort to beat them. They might be the best team we have on our schedule this year.
“I’m looking for improvement,” Luplow added. “If we get better than we were last week, we’ll make that a football game. If we go backwards, they have a chance to roll us. It’s just about us getting better and taking care of ourselves and not worrying about Beal City or any other football team.”