By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half
MARQUETTE – It was a long trip for the Colon football team, driving all the way from near the Ohio border to the Upper Peninsula for the MHSAA Division 1 8-Player Final
But the Magi made the journey worthwhile.
Behind solid defensive play and the running of fullback Brandon Crawford – who finished with 205 rushing yards – Colon defeated Suttons Bay 26-14 to win its first Finals championship.
Colon head coach Robbie Hattan credited his defense and some thorough conditioning for pushing the Magi over the top. They intercepted four passes and returned one pick for a touchdown.
“In the regular season, our first team defense didn’t give up a point,” he said. “So we get to the playoffs and obviously, when you get to the playoffs, you play at a different level. So we gave up 12 points, 12 points, seven points. Our defense has been the strength of our team.”
“We condition so much,” he said. “During camp, we have different military branches come in to push our kids. We had the Navy SEALs, we had the Army Rangers, Air Force Special Ops. These kids were putting in the work. We figured it out, and we ran 168 miles this season. It’s nuts how much we’ve ran, but we do that and the kids know it. We call it Monday run day. So Monday practices are no fun, but they reaped the rewards tonight and we still had legs in the fourth.”
Even though Suttons Bay’s trip up north fell short, head coach Garrick Opie praised his team for giving everything it had right to the end.
“The great thing about my team and the great thing about our kids, they don’t give up and they never have,” he said. “I think we’ve seen games like Gaylord St. Mary’s and other games being won in the last minute, and I think we still think that way until the last second.
“The one thing that I said to our team was I wanted each player to leave with an empty tank, and they did. So that’s all I can ask for. They did phenomenal.”
Trying to maintain a slim one-point lead at the start of the third quarter, the Magi (13-0) made a huge play defensively. With the ball deep in Suttons Bay territory, Crawford intercepted a screen pass from his defensive lineman spot and ran it into the end zone. After the extra point, the Magi led 14-6.
After forcing a Colon punt, the Northmen answered on their third possession of the quarter. Quarterback Bryce Opie scrambled away from pressure and hit Hugh Periard with a 47-yard pass to the Colon 37. Later, on 4th-and-inches at the Magi 14, Opie sneaked up the middle to the 10. Two plays after that, he scored on a four-yard run. He also picked up the 2-point conversion, and the game was tied 14-14.
Before the end of the quarter, Colon used its rushing attack to march down the field. Crawford plowed his way from the Suttons Bay 43 to the 15, and three plays later quarterback Phillip Alva punched the ball into the end zone from the 1. However, a bad snap on the extra point forced the Magi to pass, and the throw was intercepted in the end zone.
Suttons Bay (12-1) wasn’t shaken though. A 31-yard run from Camryn Knaub helped the Northmen to the Colon 6. But on fourth down, Opie’s pass fell incomplete ,and Colon took over on downs. Just two plays later, Crawford rumbled down the Magi sideline for a 94-yard touchdown. The conversion failed and Colon led by 12 with 7:36 left.
Suttons Bay had one last real chance to get back in the game after blocking a Colon punt with about six minutes remaining, but Jonathan West ended the rally with another interception.
“They just kept trying to push me out of bounds and didn’t really try to tackle me, so I just kept my feet going,” Crawford said of his touchdown. “I think that and the interception by Jonathan were the turning point. Those really helped us.”
“Brandon is a heck of a football player,” Hattan said. “That kid is going to be playing college football someday. He loves having the ball in his hands in big situations. We know we can rely on him, and he really took care of business today.”
While the second half was a little more explosive, the first half was fairly quiet offensively. Colon got on the scoreboard first on its second possession of the game, on a Crawford 24-yard run. With the extra point, Colon led 7-0 with 7:31 to go in the first quarter.
After forcing a Magi punt early in the second quarter, the Northmen started to generate some offense. Opie picked up a first down on a run from the Suttons Bay 49 to the Colon 38, and two plays late a costly Magi penalty moved the ball to the 23. On the next play, Opie threw a pass into double coverage in the corner of the end zone, but Lucas Mikesell adjusted and made a leaping catch behind both Magi defenders for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked though, and Suttons Bay trailed 7-6 with 8:26 left in the half – and the score stayed the same heading into the break.
PHOTOS: (Top) Colon’s Brandon Crawford reaches for the end zone while a Suttons Bay defender attempts to prevent the score Saturday. (Middle) Suttons Bay quarterback Bryce Opie works to avoid Justin Miller’s rush. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)