PETOSKEY — The Jaycees Traveling Trophy isn’t going anywhere.
For a third straight year the golden football trophy of the Petoskey and Gaylord rivalry will stay in its current place: Petoskey.
After a dominating performance by the Northmen in the 2019, the game returned to its roots on Friday night when the rivalry kicked off a late 2020 season with a typical ground and pound, tight battle that ended in a 22-14 Petoskey win.
As typical of a rivalry matchup as the game came, it also had the look and feel of a season-opener for both teams, with penalties and blunders that filled the night, beginning with the opening Petoskey snap.
Backed up in their own territory, the Northmen fumbled the first offensive snap of the game, which was then scooped and scored by Gaylord’s Connor Abraham.
One play in and the Northmen found themselves down by a 7-0 score.
“Talking about rivalry games and crazy things that happen and you don’t have to look much further than the first play to say, ‘Oh my gosh.’ After no scrimmages or anything like that,” Petoskey head coach Gavin Fralick said. “But for these guys, this is the reason you put in the workouts in the summer and everything, it’s for this feeling. To be able to have that rivalry trophy means a lot. It’s a great way to start the season and be able to be 1-0 in the conference. It feels good.
“I’m just proud of the mental toughness after the way the game started. To be able to weather that storm. You always look at a team and think, ‘OK, how are they going to respond when they get tested?’ That was about as big of a test as you can have. After one play you’re down 7-0 to start your season. So I was really proud of how we responded.”
A trophy game since 1978, Petoskey now leads the trophy series by a 24-19 advantage, along with the series overall since 1950 by a 32-21 advantage.
Gaylord coach Shawn Sargent felt his guys had a bit of rust to shake off on both sides of the ball, which he hopes got knocked loose against the Northmen.
“As far as rust goes I think that’s to be expected. After the layoff and not having much summer activities to work on stuff, but they had the same thing. It’s the attention to the detail. That’s on us as coaches. We had some mishaps with details, so we need to lock that up.”
Petoskey responded from the opening fumble with a 15-play drive that ended with a Patrick Leavy to Rippin Vining touchdown pass and catch, though the two-point play came up short, making it a 7-6 game.
Gaylord added to the lead with a two yard run into the endzone by Quinn Schultz, making it a 14-6 game early in the second quarter.
Needing a momentum boost, the Northmen got it when Jarrin Kelly broke free on the ensuing kickoff and returned it into Gaylord territory for 45 yards. Vining later capped off the drive with a seven yard touchdown run, then Leavy found Kelly for the two-point play, which tied the game at 14-14.
The two later headed to half knotted at 14-all.
Just as the fist half began with a fumble for Petoskey, Gaylord followed suit in the second half, mishandling the opening third quarter kickoff, which was recovered by Petoskey’s Caleb Gosciak.
The Northmen didn’t waste the opportunity, as Ian Piehl found a second half groove in the Petoskey backfield and ran in a four-yard touchdown. He then added the two-point conversion to put the Northmen up 22-14 halfway through the third quarter.
“The point of attack on the last drive they scored their touchdown it was an issue that we weren’t kicking down on the unbalanced formation, so it was more about us recognizing stuff,” said Sargent. “That’s on us as coaches to make sure that we rep that more so that they recognize it quicker and adjust to it. Credit to Petoskey because they recognized that we weren’t adjusting to it.”
Each side traded drives from there, with the Northmen defense finding key stops when they needed to and the Petoskey offensive line moving the line of scrimmage just enough for the clock to finally meet zero.
“Those guys get a lot of credit,” said Fralick on his big guys up front. “They were getting movement and we were able to rotate a few different running backs in there and they were all doing a nice job. But, it always starts up front. Whether it’s offensive line, defensive line, that’s where games are won and lost.”
Petoskey totaled 185 yards on the ground, under the 230 from last year’s matchup, though every yard came key this time around.
Piehl led with 14 carries for 65 yards and the score, Vining had 16 rushes for 63 yards and two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, while Kelly finished with eight rushes for 34 yards.
Leavy then completed 5-of-8 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown and Vining had three grabs for 40 yards and the score.
With it coming as his first varsity start at quarterback, Fralick was happy with Leavy’s performance.
“I think there’s a perception that we’re ground and pound and absolutely, that’s our identity, but we have to be able to throw it some too,” said Fralick. “For his first start, I’m very happy with the decision making he had.”
Defensively, Vining led with six tackles and a tackle for a loss, Charlie Ramirez made five tackles, Ty Slater had five tackles and Bryce Beck had four tackles and a big sack. Gavin Wargel also added four tackles and a first half interception.
From the opening snap fumble to a couple stalled drives and unnecessary penalties along the way, Fralick knows there’s plenty to focus on in practice ahead, but he’s also just thrilled to have the chance to be coaching his guys this fall after it looked for a while like it wouldn’t happen.
“We talked tonight that this is step one,” said Fralick. “I really like the changes that they made to the playoff system because instead of just scrambling to get those wins, now we can take that longer game focus and say, ‘Where do we need to be in six weeks?’ Like everybody else, it’s a culmination and peak at the right time. We’re excited and this week will be a big week of practice. There’s so much we can work on.”
The Northmen will next head to Big North Conference foe Traverse City Central on Friday, Sept. 25. The Trojans opened the first week with a 53-14 win over rival Traverse City West.
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