By Mike Dunn
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — In a much-anticipated Division 8 football semifinal clash Saturday at Thirlby Field, Beal City used its superior team speed to stifle St. Ignace and record a 25-7 victory.
The Aggies (13-0) remained unbeaten and punched their ticket to the state finals for the second time since 2009. St. Ignace saw its season end with a 12-1 mark.
Beal City coach Lou Rau said playing rugged competition during the season served as an excellent preparation for taking on the Saints in the semifinals.
"We've faced a lot of good competition and that definitely helped us," he told reporters. "I thought our conditioning and our ability to keep it going for four quarters was the key. We shot ourselves in the foot at times with penalties but we were able to overcome that and make plays when we needed them."
Beal City, which has advanced to at least the semifinal round of the playoffs in five of the past six years, will face Harbor Beach (12-1), which outscored Muskegon Catholic Central 32-27 in Saturday's other semifinal.
"That's something brand new," Rau said of facing the Pirates for the state title. "I know nothing about them except they have a good quarterback. We have some history with Muskegon and thought we might see them again.
"I had a dream last night that it was us and Harbor Beach in the state finals and that's how it turned out."
Beal led 12-7 at halftime Saturday before gradually pulling away in the second half. The booming foot of senior Paul Anders accounted for field goals of 42 and 30 yards to push the lead to 18-7 and then senior halfback Ty Rollin, the Aggies' workhorse in the backfield, put the finishing touches on the impressive win with a 3-yard push across the goal line with 1:25 to play.
Anders ended Beal's initial drive of the second half with his majestic 42-yard boot that sailed beyond the white picket fence on the other side of the goalposts and looked for a while like it might just keep going. That was the culmination of a 79-yard march and pushed the Beal lead to 15-7.
Anders' second field goal with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter capped another methodical drive, this one covering 76 yards in 12 plays. The drive took several minutes off the clock and, more importantly, gave the Aggies a two-score advantage with time running out.
"Making that field goal was huge; it took the wind out of their sails," Rau acknowledged.
The Saints advanced to their own 39-yard line on the ensuing possession. On fourth-and-1 from there, however, halfback Dick Bentley was stopped short by the Aggies' Rollin and Nick Hoogerhyde.
Beal City took over with 4:18 to play and used up three minutes going in for its last touchdown. Rollin, who finished with 143 yards on 22 carries, carried the ball five times in the drive, including the final four plays.
Aside from its lone scoring drive in the first half, St. Ignace was able to do very little against the swarming, aggressive Aggie defense. Beal City intercepted three passes on the day and limited the Saints to 139 yards of total offense.