TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City St. Francis ran past Houghton Lake Saturday in the Division 7 pre-district football battle at Thirlby Field.
And the host Gladiators needed all the yards.
St. Francis had six touchdown runs and amassed 372 net yards rushing in a 42-28 victory. The Glads, now 7-3 overall, host 6-4 McBain next.
“I did not expect a track meet, but I expected us to come out, establish the run, play fast and execute and we did that,” St. Francis coach Josh Sellers said. “We were due to break out and have a high-scoring game like this.
“The best thing is that we got the win and that we play next week.”
St. Francis senior Sterling Holcomb led the ground game with 116 yards on eight carries including 50 of those yards on the Gladiators final score with just over two minutes remaining.
“I saw there was no one there when I broke through the line and said, ‘Let’s go,’” the captain said after his long TD run put the game out of reach. “It felt good and it feels even greater to be moving on.
“I’ve been in the playoffs for three years and being a senior, I don’t want to lose. I want to go all the way.”
Gabe Olivier added 113 yards on 14 carries including a 12-yard TD run to open the second-half scoring. Andy Simaz ran nine times for 80 yards and two scores (9 and 19 yards) before exiting early in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
St. Francis quarterback Kolin Endres, who ran for a 5-yard TD in the fourth quarter, also completed three passes for another 18 yards.
“I didn’t know we had that many yards running the ball,” said Endres, who also pinned the Bobcats deep in their own territory with a couple pooch punts. “But this feels good knowing we’re coming back to play next week.
“Today we scored more points than them and we’re moving on, and that’s all that matters.”
St. Francis never trailed in the pre-district game, scoring touchdowns on three of its first four possessions. Simaz had two of the early TDs and Owen Mueller had the other from 5 yards out.
But Houghton Lake didn’t back down. The Bobcats were without a first down until the second quarter, but they demonstrated quick strike potential when quarterback Trent Oridway hooked up with Jake Jobin for a 51-yard TD pass just five minutes into the contest.
St. Francis went up 28-7 on Olivier’s touchdown run five minutes after intermission, but Ordiway and Jobin continued to keep the Glads on their toes. Jobin caught a 16-yard TD pass with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.
Endres put the Gladiators up 35-14 with a TD run with 8:37 to play, however, Ordiway again connected with Jobin for a school-record 14th time with 4:10 left to make it a two-score game.
“Just when I thought we had them down for the count, they kept coming back,” Sellers said.
The two teams traded scores in the final two minutes with Ordiway running in from the 3-yard line with less than a minute to play.
“We knew if we tried to go two tight ends against St. Francis, they’re too physical and aggressive and would be difficult to run on,” Houghton Lake coach Joe Holloway said after his Bobcats finished 6-4. “So we decided to get our playmakers in space and use their spacing because we’ve got a really talented quarterback and receivers. We hoped that we could get Jake open and Trent could get him the ball.”
Jobin finished with 11 catches and 191 yards. Brian Morgan also ran 22 times for 80 yards for the Bobcats.
“We have a great deal of respect for this team and the St. Francis program,” Holloway said. “We knew we could not stop their running game, but we wanted to try and slow it down. We just couldn’t.”
Sellers was pleased with his team’s defensive effort after losing a couple of starters to injuries.
“I was really proud of our defensive line for stopping their run game,” Sellers said. “We had some guys step in and play well.
“We had a freshman middle linebacker in Burke Flowers who never expected to play, who stepped in and did a fantastic job for us and got us where we needed to be.”
St. Francis was also penalized nine times for 127 yards.
“I feel like we’re trending in the right direction,” Sellers said. “It was especially good to see a lot of different guys get in the end zone.
“But we still have things to clean. We made too many penalties and too many mistakes.”