HARBOR BEACH — Harbor Beach was in this position last year.
The Pirates won their first two games, then traveled to Reese, and their promising start was over.
Friday night, they made sure history didn’t repeat itself as they took advantage of four first-half turnovers in a 30-16 victory.
“We turned it over four times in the first half,” said Reese coach Bob Saylor. “When you do that, it’s pretty hard to win against a good team. Harbor Beach has a nice club.
“We enjoy playing them. It’s always a hard-hitting game.”
Harbor Beach had to overcome an early hurdle as it trailed for the first time this season. Reese quarterback Cody Peyok scored on a 1-yard dive and hit Matt Frost for the 2-pointer to make it 8-0 with 46 seconds to play in the first quarter.
“Sometimes with a young team, having those shutouts can be good, but it can hurt you too,” said Harbor Beach coach Troy Schelke. “When the other team scores, all heck breaks loose. I thought our kids stepped up and came through.
“We talked about that before the game. We knew that there was going to be some adversity.”
The Pirates answered back when Eli Kraft hit Aaron Ginther for a 28-yard hookup on a 4th-and-2.
With 2:50 to play in the half, Harbor Beach took advantage of short field after a fumble by the Rockets.
A few plays later, Kraft scrambled in for a 9-yard score. He connected with Ginther for the ensuing 2-pointer to make it 14-8 with 1:50 remaining.
The Rockets advanced deep into Harbor Beach territory on their next possession, but failed to convert a fourth down, allowing the Pirates to take over on their own 36-yard line with 1:00 left in the half.
Harbor Beach quickly marched down the field and Kraft hit Sloan Klaski for a 2-yard touchdown as time ran out. Kraft hit Ginther again for the 2-pointer to make it 22-8 at the break.
“That’s just a huge momentum swing one way or the other,” Schelke said. “I think it was huge for us to get ahead because we forced them to grind it out and take some chances.”
Added Saylor: “Any time you give up a score, it’s deflating, but when you give it up at that point going into half, it hurts. They played a great game in the second half and limited our touches.”
With 10:56 to play in the game, Derek Pfaff put it out of reach for the Pirates with a 7-yard scamper. Ginther converted the 2-pointer to make it 30-6.
The Rockets tacked on a safety on a botched Harbor Beach punt attempt. They ended the game with a 7-yard touchdown run from Travis Stockmeyer.
Reese remains on the road for a critical Greater Thumb West game with Vassar next week.
Saylor knows his team has to take care of the ball much better if it expects to contend for the league title.
“If you don’t hold on to the football, you’re not going to win very many games,” he said. “Those are simple things that we need to control.
“It’s one thing if somebody puts a good hit on you, but if you don’t secure the ball, that frustrates you.”
Harbor Beach showed nice offensive balance, rushing for 138 yards, led by Kraft, with 62 yards on 10 carries. He also completed 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards.
Reese was held to 215 total yards of offense.
The Pirates remain home to host Brown City for their first Greater Thumb East contest of the season.
“We have a lot of confidence, but we have to be real careful,” Schelke said. “Every game, especially, the league games, are important, so we can’t lose focus from week-to-week. I’m just so happy for our seniors. They came up as sophomores and really helped save our program. Now, they’re blending in really well with our young pups.”
A few photos...