ISHPEMING - Saturday's state playoff football game in Ishpeming was billed as a battle of speed vs. size.
But like a prizefight that ends a minute into the first round, this matchup was over almost as soon as it begun.
Led by junior Bobby Zhulkie's two touchdowns, two interceptions and 78 yards rushing, Ishpeming put a hammerlock on downstate Mancelona for a 32-0 victory in an MHSAA Division 7 district championship game.
Ishpeming's Adam Prisk (30) runs upfield during the first half of the Division 7, Region 1, District 1 title game against Mancelona in Ishpeming on Saturday. Bobby Zhulkie ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns to lead Ishpeming to a 32-0 triumph. (The Hematites will next host Lake City tentively scheduled Saturday at a time and location to be determined. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
Playing at home on a field that got muddy in places as the game wore on, the Hematites scored on their first possession and never allowed the Ironmen's big linemen to get their offense untracked.
Mancelona moved the ball into the Ishpeming end of the field just twice all day, both times in the third quarter, and managed just 94 yards offense in 47 plays, a 2.0-yard average.
"We knew what they were going to do, but they blocked better than we tackled," Mancelona coach Dan Derrer said. "We worked so hard to put ourselves back here and I thought we had the team to get over the hump."
He was referring to the Ironmen not being able to get past this second round of the playoffs despite making the postseason six times in the past seven years. That includes a 38-6 loss at Ishpeming in 2010, the year the Hematites reached the state championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.
Head coach Jeff Olson's Ishpeming squad has its own playoff streak going - 11 straight appearances and 13 in 14 years - along with four consecutive second-round victories.
"We knew going in that discipline and technique are important for us," said Hematites assistant coach Scott Syrjala. Olson was unavailable while conferring with referees after the game.
At least part of that conference was thought to be dealing with Ishpeming's only black mark all day long - a brawl involving numerous players with 5:19 left in the third quarter.
Observers said it started when a Mancelona player punched an Ishpeming player whose helmet had
been knocked off. A player from each team was ejected, and Olson was visibly irate with officials apparently because All-Upper Peninsula lineman Brad Wootke was the Hematite player thrown out.
But it couldn't mar Ishpeming's dominance all day long, particularly on defense.
For instance, Mancelona had just three first downs and two plays 10 yards or longer. Ironmen quarterback Kyle Schepperley had just two of his six pass attempts caught - the pair of interceptions by Zhulkie.
"We were able to keep them from getting outside," Zhulkie said about the Hematites' defense. "And our line had a good surge, both offense and defense."
"I didn't think Ishpeming was faster than us, in fact, I thought we had faster guys," he said. "But they got lower on their blocks.
"They executed better than us and they're a fundamentally sound team. You can see how well coached they are."
Superior blocking showed up early on senior Eric Kostreva's first touchdown about four minutes into the game. He ran a sweep left and once he cleared the line of scrimmage, he was already out wider than any Mancelona defender.
He just had to scamper past one defender in the secondary as he made a beeline to the corner of the end zone.
Ishpeming broke things open with three second-quarter TDs, the first two by Zhulkie and junior QB Alex Briones from less than a yard out.
Briones, who has missed playing time due to a broken foot, completed 3 of 5 passes for 79 yards and rushed for 40 yards too.
The final TD of the first half electrified the crowd more than any other. That's because it was a 13-yard pass caught by 6-foot-4 freshman Ozzy Corp, who also hauled in a 48-yard catch on the previous scoring drive.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is email@example.com.