MARQUETTE - As the final seconds ticked down early Saturday afternoon at the Superior Dome in Marquette, Ishpeming High School football fans started chanting "U.P. Power! U.P. Power!"
They were entitled.
The Hematites didn't overpower Pewamo-Westphalia in a MHSAA Division 7 state semifinal game, but their 8-7 triumph did send them to the championship contest next weekend.
Ishpeming junior quarterback Alex Briones runs into the endzone for a successful two-point conversion, putting the Hematites in the lead 8-7 during the third quarter of a MHSAA Division 7 state semifinal against Pewamo-Westphalia at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"This is the best feeling in the world," IHS senior lineman Brad Wootke said after his team had improved to 12-1 on the season.
"The first day of practice (this season), we had high expectations. We knew if we worked hard, we could make it there (to the finals).
"It will be a tough game (Saturday), but if we work as hard as we can, we can win. Anything's possible."
Teammate Eric Kostreva, who scored Ishpeming's lone touchdown and led the Hematites in rushing with 107 yards on 23 carries, was overjoyed after the game.
"This is awesome. It's the greatest thing that has ever happened," he said.
IHS junior quarterback-safety Alex Briones, who intercepted two passes, concurred.
"This is out of this world," he said. "From Day 1, we preached that we were going to make the state finals. We trained so hard during the offseason and hard work pays off."
IHS will play Detroit Loyola (13-0) at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit for the state title. Loyola crushed Flint Beecher 54-6 on Saturday.
"I'm just so excited. I can't wait for Saturday," Hematite junior back and punter Tyler Windahl said.
When P-W (9-4) got a 94-yard touchdown from Lane Simon in the second quarter off a tipped pass to take the lead, it was the first time Ishpeming had trailed in the postseason.
"We had our backs against the wall, but this is a great group of kids," IHS head coach Jeff Olson said. "They're great competitors and just made play-after-play late.
"This was a big grind. But our (Mid-Peninsula Conference) and our season schedule prepared us for games like this."
The Pirates opened the game with an 18-play drive that consumed 10 1/2 minutes with the help of three pass completions of 14, nine and nine yards to Simon from QB Kyle Nurenberg.
But the drive stalled on downs on the IHS 1-yard line.
"That was big. All 11 (of our defenders) did the job there," Olson said.
Later in the half, Briones snared his first of two picks to stop the Pirates.
Trailing 7-0 at intermission, the Hematites suffered an interception by Clayton Platte on their first offensive series of the third quarter.
But IHS got the ball back and drove 70 yards behind the running of Kostreva and Briones for its lone TD. Kostreva used blocks by Wootke, Joey Lyle and Mitch Laurin to get outside and score untouched.
"It was a counter play to the left," Kostreva said. "I was headed up the middle, but saw an opening to the left and I took it.
"I sucked (the Pirate defenders in) and I went outside once they did that."
Added Olson: "(P-W) put a lot of guys in the (defensive) box and this one time, it bit them. Eric had great vision and was able to get to the outside."
Briones added a two-point conversion run for the winning points.
"You have to credit our offensive line for some key blocks," Olson commented.
After that, the defenses took over, especially Ishpeming's.
Briones came up with his second pick at his own goal line with 5:08 left, then teammate Hunter Wirtanen recorded an interception with 1:37 remaining to seal the win.
"My (second pick) was a breakdown play," Briones said. "Their QB was running around looking for someone to throw to. I just stayed with my man the whole time and was able to get it."
Wirtanen's interception came after defensive tackle Wootke had sacked Nurenberg for a 17-yard loss and intentional grounding was called against the P-W signal caller
"I knew we had to make a (defensive) play and I just pushed myself," Wootke said. "I wasn't able to get a full load on him, but was able to get a hand on him.
"I got a good lock on (his jersey) with my right hand."
IHS was able to lock down the Pirates' running game, unofficially allowing just 35 yards on the same number of carries.
"Defense wins championships," Olson said. "Our defense came up huge. (P-W) had an exceptional quarterback and some good receivers.
"We had to make some big stops. I thought our kids did a fantastic job keeping the ball in front of them."
Now Olson and Co. can look forward to a trip to Detroit and try to bring IHS its first state football title since 1979.
"It's going to be a great road trip," the coach said. "Ford Field is a special place and these kids had (going there) on their mind all year.
"It's a reward for them."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.