By Calli Newberry
A late-game interception in the endzone by Port Huron High junior defensive back Jaiden Ashford secured the Big Reds’ victory on Friday night over Port Huron Northern in the Crosstown Showdown.
“It means everything. I don’t know what’s first or second, beating Northern or winning the championship, and I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing,” Port Huron head coach Dan Perkins said. “This is an enormous atmosphere and big game and it’s awesome when we’re both good. That’s the way it should be when it comes down to the end of the game. It was just fantastic. I’m really proud of our guys, and they ought to be proud of his, they played fantastic too.”
That just about sums up last night’s contest: a loud atmosphere, two-evenly matched teams, and some great football.
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The Big Reds came out fast, just as Perkins said they would have to if they wanted to win. On the opening drive, Port Huron recovered the kick off and scored just a minute and a half later when senior running back Gabe Mose darted his way into the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown.
“He’s an electric kid. He’s one of those kids where it’s hard to square him up and get a good hit on him,” Perkins said. “They did that, but he’s a tough little sucker. You give him a six, eight-inch crease and he’s going to hit it.”
After that first touchdown Mose went on to rack up 123 of the team’s 167 total rushing yards for the night.
“Summer workouts were hard, I put in a lot of work then,” Mose said. “And now I just have fun out there and go all out. I go all out, that’s really all I do.”
The second quarter was off to a similar start when junior quarterback Nate Oriel kept the ball on a long sprint down field for another Big Reds touchdown with 10 minutes left of the half. With a 14-0 lead heading into the locker room, Port Huron seemed to have the game under control.
“[Oriel] has played a lot all year, he’s a quarterback or a starting player otherwise, so we had supreme confidence in him and we knew he’d come out,” Perkins said. “He’s a gamer, this kid’s got a little magic to him, he did a great job managing the game for us, we can’t say enough about Nathan and his performance.”
Port Huron lost its original starting quarterback, sophomore Amauri Haller, earlier in the week, forcing the Big Reds to make some quick adjustments. Oriel handled it just fine, however, with 36 passing yards and two touchdowns to lead the Big Reds offense.
“It was just a shock. When I found out that I was quarterback, it was just a shock. But obviously I’m going to be ready for Northern,” Oriel said. “I was a little bit nervous, but it felt good being back there. Of course Amauri is still our quarterback but it did feel good to be back there. It means a lot. It wasn’t only the Northern game, the Crosstown Showdown, it was a championship game, so of course a lot of pressure, but it feels amazing.”
Early on in the second half, Northern found some much-needed momentum with a long pass from junior quarterback Dylan Bloink to senior wide receiver Evan Delong that put the Huskies in good position from the Big Reds’ 22-yard line.
However, Port Huron senior defensive back Cameron Cole wasn’t about to let the Huskies off that easy. He intercepted an attempted touchdown pass and returned it to the Big Reds’ 42-yard line.
It didn’t take too long for Northern to get the ball back and begin another march downfield. Finally the Huskies got within two yards to give senior running back Joel Steinhauer a chance to break way into the end zone, which is exactly what he did with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
With a one-score lead heading into the final quarter, the Big Reds defense was on lockdown. Neither team made much progress until the final three minutes when Northern got within scoring position, but the Port Huron defense pushed the Huskies back into a fourth-and-17 situation.
“When you put pressure on people, they’ve got to get the ball off, and I think it was a combination of both,” Perkins said. “We had a good idea they were going to throw the ball. The guys have been playing great in the back all year and it was just one of those things.”
That’s exactly what happened. With a little time left and a bit of momentum, Bloink slung the ball toward the back corner of the end zone where his receiver was accompanied by two Big Reds. The unintended Ashford came down with it to put Port Huron back on offense from its own 20-yard line with 2:36 to go in the game.
The game wasn’t over yet, however. Port Huron punted with 43 seconds left and Northern had the ball on the 48-yard line. The Huskies made the final 30 seconds interesting and they nearly made it to the red zone before being brought down and running out of time.
Port Huron wrapped up the MAC-Blue division title for the second year in a row and handed Northern its first loss of the season. Both teams now stand 6-1, but the Big Reds boast a perfect conference record. They each have a pair of non-division games left to play before districts begin on Oct. 29. Northern is traveling to Romeo High School next Friday while Port Huron will return home to face Roseville High School.
“We’re going to have a bunch of confidence. Now we’re MAC-Blue champions and we just beat our crosstown rivals, we’re going to have so much confidence,” Oriel said. “Of course, we’ve got a tough next week against Roseville, but we’ll have a bunch of confidence going into it.”