ISHPEMING - His team will play West Iron County on the road Friday night, but Jeff Olson said being away from the Ishpeming Playgrounds shouldn't be a problem.
"We'd rather play at home," the veteran Ishpeming High School head coach said, "but it's not that far away (77 miles to Iron River). We won't be fighting tired legs sitting on a bus."
The defending MHSAA Division 7 state champion Hematites (10-0) will meet the Wykons (10-0) at 7 p.m. EST in a district title game.
Ishpeming senior Noah Olgren (20) escapes the grasp of two Mancelona players to run the ball for a 50-yard touchdown during the third quarter of an MHSAA Division 7 pre-district game Saturday at the Ishpeming Playgrounds. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"They have everything," Olson said of WIC. "They're big, strong, quick and athletic. They're playing with a lot of confidence and emotion right now.
"It's going to be a great matchup."
The last time the two teams met was in 2011, when IHS whipped the Wykons 44-14 in Iron River in postseason play.
"They started six sophomores then, so we knew (West Iron) would be good this year," Olson said.
Coach Mike Berutti's Wykons, recording their first unbeaten season in school football history, feature two Upper Peninsula "Dream Team" players and three All-U.P. Large School selections.
Offensive tackle Andy Ridolphi (6-2, 265 senior) and defensive end Andrew Peterson (6-2, 205 senior) - the WestPac Defensive Player of the Year - are the All-Class gridders.
Offensive tackle Bryson Heimerl (6-3, 300 senior), defensive back Colton Pangrazzi (5-10, 165 senior) and punter Ryan Rogers (6-2, 170 senior) are the other WIC honorees.
"They can hurt you with speed and miss-direction (on offense), but they also use an I-formation to power the ball at you," Olson said of the Wykons.
"They have a big offensive line and their backs run hard with speed."
The Hematites boast some offensive firepower of their own.
U.P. Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Alex Briones (6-2, 215 junior), as well as tight end Mitch Laurin (6-0, 208 senior) and offensive tackle Jake Quayle (5-11, 200 senior), all made the U.P. All-Class team.
Playing about a half of eight games due to IHS blowouts, Briones still managed to post 1,050 yards passing and 814 yards rushing.
"Because (West Iron's) so versatile (on offense), we have to keep the ball in our hands with some long drives," Olson said.
"We can't turn the ball over, either. If we do that, they're going to hurt us."
IHS may be as strong - or stronger - on defense, where it held opponents to just 64 points in the regular season. The Hematites also gave up only 108 yards a game en route to a Mid-Peninsula Conference defensive record.
Dream Team defensive tackle Adam Prisk 5-11, 180 senior) and defensive back Tyrus Millimaki (5-7, 150 senior) will lead the Ishpeming defensive effort.
All-U.P. Large School linebacker Bobby Zhulkie (5-10, 195 senior) should also play a pivotal role.
"We have to cover the whole field against WIC (defensively)," Olson said, "because they can hurt you inside and outside.
"We'll have to play assignment-oriented football."