ISHPEMING - Under conditions fit for neither man nor beast, the Ishpeming football team found a formula that worked to a 'T' Saturday afternoon.
Despite keeping their passes to a minimum and their handoffs to zero, junior quarterback Alex Briones was at the center of the Hematites' 28-12 victory that will send Ishpeming on the road to a neutral site for the MHSAA Division 7 state semifinals.
The Hematites need a win next weekend to reach the D7 state title game for the second time in three years. Their semifinal opponent will be Pewamo-Westphalia - in a game to probably be played on Saturday afternoon at a site to be determined.
Ishpeming junior quarterback Alex Briones, center, fights his way upfield with blocking help from freshman Ozzy Corp, left, and senior Eric Kostreva at the MHSAA Division 7 regional final in Ishpeming on Saturday. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
Field conditions at the Ishpeming Playgrounds in Saturday's regional final started muddy between the hash marks, and as the grass was chewed up, spread ever closer to the sidelines as the game progressed.
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Briones was at the center of Ishpeming's offense even though his only pass of the day was intercepted. And he never touched the ball on any of Eric Kostreva's 25 rushes as the senior tailback took direct snaps all game from junior center David Simula.
What Briones did do was rush 32 times for a game-high 199 yards and scored all four of his team's touchdowns - one per quarter - on runs ranging from 1 to 42 yards.
MHSAA Division 7 state semifinals
- Ishpeming (11-1) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (9-3)
- Detroit Loyola (12-0) vs. Flint Beecher (8-4)
Site, time and dates to be determined
He also called the plays, particularly in the first half, out of a shotgun formation with Kostreva to his side.
Then on defense, he put the final nail in the Trojans' coffin by intercepting a pass with 6:15 left, prompting Ishpeming head coach Jeff Olson to put junior Tyler Windahl in at QB for the rest of the game.
"It sure was nice to have a 6-2, 200-pound athlete at the quarterback position today," Olson said.
"We ran well, we blocked well and we played terrific defense. It was such a team effort, especially with the conditions out there."
Those conditions caused very few falls, as there was no standing water on the field. Instead, the clay-like soil of the Ishpeming Playgrounds made it hard for linemen to keep their footing, while at other times, runners could hardly unstick their cleats out of the muck.
"Our linemen really owned the line and opened up some holes for us," Kostreva said. "The key was they stayed low and got leverage on the defense."
He also had high praise for Simula.
"I never saw a bad snap all day," said Kostreva, who scored a pair of two-point conversions and finished with 143 yards rushing.
Lake City seemed most worried about Ishpeming's interior running game, loading up players in front of the Hematites' line while leaving the edges free.
On defense, Briones said this was his first interception, since he usually plays linebacker.
"We moved Alex to free safety because I just wanted to get as many athletes on their athletes as we could," Olson said.
What worried Olson was Trojans junior QB Drew Marion, who passed for 1,694 yards and 22 TDs and ran for another 899 yards and 21 TDs in the regular season.
Marion dominated Lake City's offense Saturday, too, though it was the Ishpeming defense that dominated him. Marion scored both of the Trojans' TDs, but only finished with 35 yards rushing on 20 attempts while completing 6 of 20 passes for 76 yards.
"The weather worked well for their style of play," Lake City coach Tim Peterson said. "They blocked very well and we couldn't stop them on first down."
The Hematites, who had 22 first downs, finished with 407 yards, all on the ground. Their four TD drives each lasted between nine and 14 plays.
Though the Trojans pulled to within 8-6 early in the second quarter, Ishpeming got the next two scores to go up 22-6 late in the third quarter and put Lake City in desperation mode.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.