ISHPEMING - With a 12-0 season record and a berth in the MHSAA state Division 7 semifinals, it's no stretch to say the Ishpeming High School football team has a lot of skill players.
Gridders such as Alex Briones, Adam Prisk, Bobby Zhulkie, Tyrus Millimaki and Noah Olgren top the list and get a lot of media attention.
But with the Hematites averaging nearly 40 points a game on offense to date this season, the team's often unrecognized offensive linemen have been a major reason for Ishpeming's success.
Ishpeming offensive linemen Alec VanHorn (75), Dan Thorton (53) and Andrew Bennet, far right, block for quarterback Alex Briones, back, against Lake City last Saturday in an MHSAA Division 7 regional championship game at Ishpeming High School. The Hematites, who won the Division 7 state title last year, play the defending Division 8 state champions, Harbor Beach, at 1 p.m. this Saturday at the Superior Dome in Marquette in the Div. 7 state semifinals. (Journal photo by?Adelle Whitefoot)
"They're not overly big," IHS head coach Jeff Olson said of his linemen, "but they're smart, good fundamentally and hard-nosed kids.
"What they may lack in size, they make up in technique and toughness."
Scheduled to start in Ishpeming's game with Harbor Beach (11-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday inside Northern Michigan University's Superior Dome are IHS center David Simula (5-foot-11, 175-pound senior); guards Jake Quayle (5-11, 200, senior) and Dan Thornton (5-9, 165, junior); tackles Alec VanHorn (6-0, 250, junior) and Andrew Bennett (5-11, 195, senior); and tight end Mitch Laurin (6-0, 208, senior).
They'll be tested Saturday by a Harbor Beach defense that has allowed only 129 total points for a 10.7 per-game average.
"(The Pirates) defensively close gaps and get people to the football," Olson said. "We'll take what their defense gives us. If they stack the box, we'll throw the ball."
He added the Dome's artificial turf "is going to be a wash as to (which team) gets the upper hand."
"Obviously, we can throw the ball more (on turf) than we did last week (on grass in a 28-13 IHS regional win over Lake City)," Olson said.
In Harbor Beach, located 423 miles from Marquette east of Bad Axe on the shores of Lake Huron, IHS will be facing the defending Division 8 state champion.
"They're not real big, but they're quick and athletic," Olson said. "They use a spread offense that gets the ball and athletes in spaces."
The Pirates feature quarterback Eli Kraft. He scored on a 5-yard run, a 40-yard interception return and threw a 78-yard touchdown pass last week in the Pirates' 31-14 regional title win over Pewamo-Westphalia.
Kraft went 7-of-12 passing for 158 yards.
"He's phenomenal. He might be a little faster on turf, so we'll have to be on our toes," Olson said. "We'll have to find a way to contain him."
Running back Austin Seitz and receiver Josh Schelke are also key to the Harbor Beach offense.
The Pirates, whose only loss this season was 40-21 to Menominee, are averaging 46.1 points a game on offense.
"We can't let their quarterback out of the pocket and we have to know where their receivers are," Olson said.