ELK RAPIDS — Joe Studzinski scored on a 93-yard kick return to tie the game just before half, then St. Francis went on for a 36-26 non-league win at Elk Rapids on Friday night.
Studzinski’s return came just 14 seconds after the Elks went 80 yards, the last 71 on a run by Thais Grays, to take a 14-7 lead.
But any momentum gained from that was shortlived.
“The kickoff return for a touchdown was a big shift for us on our sideline,” St. Francis coach Greg Vaughan said.
Early in the second half, the Gladiators held the Elks to a two-yard possession, leading to a punt. But the snap was high, eluding Ryan Bush, and sending the ball into the endzone. Bush kicked the ball out of bounds for a safety, giving St. Francis a 16-14 lead — a lead that they would not relinquish.
The Gladiators stretched that cushion when Joe Trucco scored his second touchdown of the night on nine-yard run at the end of the third quarter to make it 22-14.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Adam Armour scooped up a fumble and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown, putting the Gladiators up 29-14.
Elk Rapids answered with a 74-yard carry by Grays, but a failed two-point conversion left the score at 29-20.
Studzinski’s 18-yard touchdown run pushed the count to 36-20, but Grays returned the ball 80 yards for an Elk Rapids score with 3:29 left in the game.
“They’ve got big playmakers like Thais, you know, he can get a score every time he touches the football,” Vaughan said.
Grays had 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Adam Trautman went 4 for 9 for 94 yards and 12 rushing yards. He was sacked twice.
“Monday, we got to forget about this and learn from our mistakes,” Elks coach Ed Schindler said. “Our eyes have got to go forward and start looking at the conference.”