2017-09-07 / Sports

Ophoff, Wedeven lead Defenders past Norse

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By Jay Bushen
Sports Editor

WYOMING TRI-UNITY wide receiver Nick Wedeven (25) escapes the clutches of a Suttons Bay defender on his way to a 72-yard go-ahead score in the fourth quarter of a 30-21 road win over the Norsemen last Thursday. WYOMING TRI-UNITY wide receiver Nick Wedeven (25) escapes the clutches of a Suttons Bay defender on his way to a 72-yard go-ahead score in the fourth quarter of a 30-21 road win over the Norsemen last Thursday. Faced with a hard-hitting Suttons Bay defense and a 15-8 halftime deficit, Wyoming Tri-Unity coach Tim Heath opted to put the ball in the hands of backup quarterback Brayden Ophoff.

“They were rushing us pretty hard,” said Heath, who guided the Defenders to a 2016 semifinal appearance. “My offensive line is a group of ex-soccer players. With a small school and 8-man football, that’s how it is. I knew we had to get a little more mobile at quarterback. Brayden came in and did a good job for us.”

The halftime adjustment paid off.

Three second-half touchdowns from Ophoff — including two touchdown passes to wideout Nick Wedeven — lifted the Defenders to 22 second-half points and a 30-21 come-from-behind road victory last Thursday, their first of the 2017 campaign.

The Defenders (1-1) cut into the Suttons Bay lead in the third quarter when Ophoff hit Wedeven in the end zone to make it 15-14.

Then, with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Suttons Bay tailback Lucas Mikesell broke away on what looked like a game-sealing touchdown run, but Wedeven caught up and ripped the ball loose.

The Defenders took over on their own 6-yard line and took the lead a few plays later when Wedeven caught a beautifully thrown ball from Ophoff along the right sideline for a 72-yard score. Ophoff ran in the two-point conversion, putting Tri-Unity up 22-15, then delivered the dagger with a 16-yard run and another two-point conversion with 2:18 to play.

“He’s a great athlete, a great runner,” Suttons Bay coach Dan Durkin said. “One of our coaches said it was almost like playing playground football; just give him the ball and let him run. They have a couple kids who competed really hard and played well, but it’s a tough adjustment when you have to account for a quarterback.”

Suttons Bay quarterback Evan Rohrback, a senior, quickly led the Norsemen down the field and capped the drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown at the 1:40 mark, but Mikesell’s extra-point attempt was blocked. The Defenders recovered the ensuing onside kick, Ophoff picked up a key first down and the visitors ran the clock out in Suttons Bay territory.

Penalties proved costly for the Norse, who were flagged 13 times for 88 yards. Many if not most of those penalties came in the fourth quarter.

“Little things like that cost us the game,” said Suttons Bay sophomore Bryce Opie, who finished with three catches for 31 yards; seven total tackles, including one for loss; one sack; a fumble recovery and an onside kick recovery to start the second half. “Our line is doing an amazing job. We’re getting great runs. We just need to be more mentally focused. That’s what’s going to get us through the rest of the season and to the playoffs.”

Juniors Erik Halvorsen, Zach Morton and Caleb Smith also had big games for Suttons Bay.

Halvorsen finished with a team-high 14 tackles, including one for loss, and caught four passes for 46 yards. Morton made 12 stops, including four for loss. Smith also made four stops in the Tri- Unity backfield, finishing with 10 tackles and two first-half rushing touchdowns. He finished with 37 yards on 11 carries (3.4 average).

Mikesell toted the rock 20 times for 97 yards (4.9 average) and made three grabs for 31 yards. Rohrback completed 11-of-20 throws (55 percent) for 175 yards and one interception.

All six players have certainly emerged as leaders for the Norsemen, who finished with 14 more total yards than Tri-Unity (348 to 334) in the loss.

“We were seven minutes away from winning the game,” Durkin said. “We had a costly fumble there, but we have to come back on defense and stop them. ... I’m very encouraged with what I’ve seen — we just have some mental mistakes we have to clean up.

“I still think we can be something really special this year.”

High school football ... on a Saturday?

Suttons Bay players have a prime opportunity to bounce back on Saturday as they close out a three-game homestand against Grand Traverse Academy.

The Mustangs, who are 6-57 since the program was formed in 2010, suffered a 70-0 defeat against Baldwin in Week 1 and a 62-12 loss to Central Lake last week.

That’s not to say first-year Suttons Bay coach Dan Durkin is taking the Mustangs lightly.

“They like to do some different things on offense with motion and deception in the backfield, which makes it tough to prepare defensively,” Durkin said. “Defensively, they stay in the same look but are aggressive in what they do. They’re not off to the start they would have hoped for, but they’ll do whatever they can Saturday to change that.”

He said film from last week’s 30-21 loss to Tri-Unity shows that a few missed blocks and blown assignments were the only things separating Suttons Bay from a 2-0 start to the season.

Tri-Unity coach Tim Heath was certainly impressed with the effort.

“That’s a very good football team, well coached,” Heath said. “They’re going to do some things.”

Saturday’s showdown, the second-ever between Suttons Bay and Grand Traverse Academy, will start at 4 p.m. The Norsemen won the only meeting between the schools in Week 9 of 2013, 54-0.

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