MPFL: Lakes Area caps off first season with a title
Lakes Area Snowmen owner and coach JJ Kern knows there was some doubt about whether or not a local team in the Midwest Premier Football League would come together when he first came to Alexandria with that idea in mind.
That's why finishing off this team's first season with a championship felt so good for this group.
"When you're playing semi-pro football where guys aren't getting paid, that's how you get paid," Kern said. "Win a championship. That's what you do it for."
The Snowmen took on the North Shore Grizzlies at the NBC Sports Complex in Superior, WI on Saturday and came away with a 32-26 win to secure the MPFL title. Kern says the Grizzlies hadn't lost since the 2015 season, but Lakes Area rallied after a slow start.
"I can honestly say this was the first game we played good enough to beat that team," Kern said. "There's no doubt about it. It took us getting better every game all year. When we get everyone together, I knew we could play with anyone. It took getting everyone playing together on the right day."
Things didn't start well for the Snowmen. The Grizzlies returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Then Lakes Area fumbled on its first offensive possession.
"It wasn't looking good," Kern said. "We ended up stopping them and on third down got a turnover so they didn't score. We ended up punting out of there."
On the last possession of the first quarter, the Snowmen scored on a touchdown pass from Mike Ashley to DJ Elliott. North Shore answered back to take a 14-6 lead, but another touchdown pass to Jauhem Byrd-Mix cut Lakes Area's deficit to 14-12 at the half.
Ashley connected with Elliott again to give the Snowmen their first lead. It was the start of a strong second half as an interception by Elliott eventually sealed the win and the title.
"It's not easy putting a team together," Kern said. "There were definitely a lot of ups and downs on many levels. A lot of times just getting through the first year is a good thing and people are happy with a .500 record. All the work that you put into it, from all the players, all the sponsors, everyone who helped us, it all pays off when you win a championship."
Kern says he knows there were questions of whether or not a team would actually come to fruition a year ago. The Northwoods League franchise in Alexandria had recently folded, which was still fresh in the minds of many he talked to. One big difference between the two leagues is that baseball teams in the NWL play 72 games, compared to just eight, and just four home games, during the regular season in the MPFL.
"You start a football team out of nowhere, a lot of times there are a lot of people wondering if it is going to happen," Kern said. "It's always been a process for the team. We played a game, and we felt good about that. We accomplished that. Then we played a few, and we won some games. Then we made the playoffs and all those things were big and felt good. There was a lot of pride at the end, and it felt good to win it."
Lakes Area started the season 2-2 but finished strong with an overall record of 7-3-1. Kern believes the championship can help this team heading into the off-season as they look ahead to year two in the MPFL next summer.
"Going out and making it and winning a championship, I think that's going to help our momentum going into next year big time," he said.