ISHPEMING - A suffocating defense and an efficient running game are the cornerstones of the Westwood High School football program.
But the few passes they mix in can be like the deadly strike of a poisonous snake.
On Thursday night, senior quarterback Nathan Clisch was called upon to throw just eight passes, but three of them went for touchdowns ranging from 24 to 42 yards as the Patriots shut down Houghton, 36-0, at home on a warm and muggy Thursday night.
Westwood quarterback Nathan Clisch (10) runs the ball and tries to avoid Houghton’s Seth Kaarto (20) during the second quarter on Thursday at the Westwood High School football field in Ishpeming. Westwood beat Houghton 36-0. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"They had five big plays against us, all of them in the air," Gremlins first-year coach Karl Borree said. "Their defense played really well. They controlled our defense and controlled our running game."
While the Pats' offense looked impressive rolling up 378 yards, it was their defense that really put the clamps down, limiting Houghton to just 86 total yards as each team ran 47 plays.
Included in that was limiting the Gremlins to barely a half-yard per rush with 18 yards in 35 attempts, not to mention their forcing three turnovers, two of them interceptions by sophomore and recent JV callup Marquise Baggiore.
"It's always nice to win. It makes practice and preparation a whole lot easier," Westwood coach Jon Beckman said as both teams entered the game with a loss to open the season last Friday.
The surge against HHS junior quarterback Ryan LaBerge was key to those interceptions, not to mention eight negative running plays by a QB who actually is an elusive runner and broke free for some good runs in the second half.
But elusiveness didn't do much good when the result was still in doubt. For example, LaBerge rolled out to his left on a 4th-and-1 play to start the second quarter and six redshirted Westwood players ran him down with nary a Houghton blocker in sight for a 15-yard loss.
"We were able to pressure the quarterback, and that's big," Beckman said. "It's a huge momentum builder."
Westwood also kept the pressure on by scoring in three of its first four possessions, the first two TD passes of 31 yards to 6-foot-4 senior Travis Swanson and 42 yards to 5-7 junior Derek Wing.
"My receivers did most of the work," Clisch said.
Despite his protestations, he did a good job of catching his various-sized receivers right in stride for relatively easy scores.
"We were able to throw the ball much better this week," Beckman said after the Pats managed just a single 8-yard catch in six throws last week against Stephenson.
Senior back Francois Montbrun's 5-yard scoring run late in the second quarter made it 22-0 at halftime.
The Gremlins made their deepest penetration into Westwood territory the first time they had the ball in the second half, getting as close as the Patriot 23-yard-line. But a difficult 43-yard field goal try by LaBerge was rejected by the 6-foot-4 Clisch as if he was blocking shots on the basketball court.
Another TD catch by Swanson and a 10-yard scoring run by junior Tyler Harvala in the fourth quarter rounded out the scoring.
Next up for Westwood is a trip just over the Wisconsin border to play Niagara-Goodman-Pembine at 8 p.m. next Friday.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.