Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Fans can’t ask for much more than a storied high school rivalry that comes down to the game’s final minute, which was exactly what happened last night as the Port Huron High and Port Huron Northern football teams met in the Crosstown Showdown.
“It’s the PH-Northern rivalry. It’s a coin flip every night. No matter what the records are, you throw them out the window,” Huskies head coach Larry Roelens said. “Both teams fought hard. I thought our kids had their backs against the wall a few times but they just kept getting after it and getting after it and playing good, solid defense.”
Both teams entered Memorial Stadium atop the MAC-Blue at 2-0. Not only would they be battling for the shared trophy, but they would also be fighting for sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the league.
Northern struck first with 9:09 to go in the first when senior quarterback Dylan Bloink connected with freshman receiver Cam Harju on a 17-yard pass. The Huskies would score again to start the second quarter as Bloink strung together back-to-back runs to find the end zone.
The Huskies clung to their 14-0 led for the next 12 minutes despite several Port Huron threats. The Big Reds had marched down field twice with a pair of carries by junior Gavin Troy that totalled more than 80 yards, but each time the Northern defense would prevail.
With 4:33 left in the half, Port Huron’s Anthony Winkfield Jr. recovered a fumble on the Huskies’ 28-yard line, giving his team one last chane to score before the buzzer sounded. Northern’s defense marched the Big Reds back to third-and-20 before they were forced to punt.
“I felt the momentum start to gain and then we just kind of shot in ourselves in the foot and continued to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Troy said.
But things changed for the Big Reds at the half.
“Our coaches basically just told us that we needed to man up. We needed to stand up and hold our ground,” Troy said.
Less than a minute into the third quarter, Troy finally made his way to the end zone.
“I felt a little light in that and a little bit of confidence,” Troy said. “We came out the second half and I thought we did a good job of that.”
The two teams took turns punting until five minutes remained. Bloink was injured on a tackle and Northern was forced to punt one last time. With the clock winding down, Port Huron marched to the Huskies’ 32-yard line with enough momentum that signaled a touchdown.
On the next play, however, Northern junior Austin Haeck snatched an interception and ran it back to midfield with 59 seconds to go, diminishing any last Big Red hope of scoring.
“On the play before, I tipped the ball and they ended up catching it and I was feeling down, but that last play just changed everything. It was crazy,” Haeck said. “This is one of the biggest games of my career. It feels amazing.”
“We put up 14 points early and that was it and our defense kept us in the game,” Roelens said. “Our offense kind of stalled out here and there, but that was a complete team win. All three phases, that was a tremendous football game.”
The Huskies would win 14-7, improving to 5-0 on the year, 3-0 in the MAC-Blue.
“That’s huge for us…You want to have the trophy, you want to have the brick back and we got it back,” Roelens said. “That was the seniors’ slogan this week. They wanted to bring it back for their class and I’m so happy for them.”
The victory would be bittersweet, however, for two seniors on that Northern team — Bloink and Luke Fletcher — who stood on either side of the team photo, one on crutches, the other in a sling. But their leadership and impact off the field doesn’t go unnoticed.
“They’re great kids,” Roelens said. “I can’t ask for any better than those two kids and those captains and their leadership. It’s awesome.”
Northern will play at Memorial Stadium for the third straight week next Friday as the Huskies welcome Fraser (1-2 MAC-Blue), while Port Huron (3-2, 2-1 MAC-Blue) will travel to L’Anse Creuse North (1-2 MAC-Blue).