Indians axe Mustangs

Revenge. Redemption. Rivalry.

It was all on the line Friday night for the Newberry Indians, who overcame one of the fiercest foes in their latest classic encounter with the Munising Mustangs in the 2023 Battle for the Axe. After losing 6 win and hoisted the famed three-foot-tall axe for the first time since 2017.

It almost wasn’t meant to be for the Indians. The potent Newberry offense was limited early as the Indians only managed three full drives in the first half.

They entered halftime trailing 6-0.

It was exactly the style of game that Mustangs Coach Matt Mattson wanted. Slow the pace, pound the ball on the ground, and counter Newberry’s speed and skill with a tough nosed, old school, slow and physical style. It worked well last time and was nearly effective this time. The Mustangs broke a big gain for an early touchdown and looked content to grind out yards and keep control of the game.

The Indians buckled down and came back, led by a defense that showed improvement after giving up 42 points in the week one win over Brimley.

This was the Indians defense fans have grown accustomed to. The one that had a record number of shutouts and stops last season. The Indians made multiple stops, forced a pair of big turnovers, and shut down Munising the rest of the night.

Mustangs quarterback Tyler Nelson started to feel the effects, ending up bruised and battered by the Indians defense that tackled the QB six times in the game. The Indians also swarmed ball carriers, limiting leading rusher Reese Cotey.

Jacob Mohar had a team-high 16 total tackles. Gabe Luck had four sacks and 15 tackles, including 9 that forced loss of yards.

When the tribe wasn’t taking it to the Mustangs, they were literally taking the ball away.

Matthew Rahilly led a defense that forced multiple fourth-down turnovers and Rahilly added two more interceptions to season total of five.

The Indians used all their offensive options to pick apart Munising before finally breaking through. Rahilly, Kennedy Depew, and Brien Nelson handled the ball in the running game, and Luck, Mohar, and Depew were tough targets who made key catches in the passing game. Depew made two of the biggest plays of the night, scoring on a 30-yard jet sweep for a touchdown run that sparked the second half charge, and after a spinning catch in traffic in the back of the endzone to take the lead, he hauled in a two-point conversion that clinched the emotional and exciting win in front of hometown fans.

The Indians improve to 2-0 on the season and move past one of their toughest tests of the season. It won’t get any easier this week, when Newberry travels to Rudyard, another conference championship contender.

Munising will host Crystal Falls-Forest Park on Friday, Sept. 8. The Trojans are 2-0 on the year, outscoring Stephenson and Bessemer by a combined 1068. The all-time standings in the rivalry is 1-1, but the two schools have never played against each other at the eightman level. Kickoff is at 7 p.m..