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Ishpeming Hematites, Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes football teams face off in rematch from September

Ishpeming’s Jacob Kugler, left, and Dawson Delongchamp celebrate after a Hematite touchdown during their MHSAA DIvision 8 playoff game last Friday against Bark River-Harris at the Ishpeming Playgrounds. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

ISHPEMING — First-year Ishpeming head football coach George Niemi expects nothing less out of Lake Linden-Hubbell than when these teams met in Lake Linden two months ago.

The Hematites and Lakes meet again Saturday afternoon — this time in Ishpeming — with a lot more at stake than when IHS quarterback John Corkin scrambled into the end zone with 6.9 seconds left to lift his team to a 36-34 victory.

Though it was only Week 2 of the season, it helped the Hematites win the Iron Division of the West PAC with a perfect 7-0 record as they now have an 8-2 overall mark entering the 1 p.m. Saturday MHSAA Division 8 district championship game.

LL-H finished 5-2 in the same division and carries a 7-3 record into Saturday.

Their positions were similar in the final poll conducted by select members of the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association — Ishpeming just slightly ahead at No. 2 in the Small Schools poll to the Lakes’ No. 4. Undefeated and Division 7 playoff team Iron Mountain finished No. 1 among Small Schools.

Saturday’s winner will have to head downstate next week for a regional final matchup against the winner of tonight’s game that has Beal City (9-1) playing at Johannesburg-Lewiston (10-0). Both those Lower Peninsula schools have more playoff points than either the Hematites or Lake Linden, meaning the downstate survivor will host the next round.

“We’re 95 percent healthy,” Niemi said Thursday evening by telephone. “Having that Saturday game (this weekend) gave us an extra day to rest and heal.”

He doesn’t expect much different out of his team or the Lakes this time around.

“Lake Linden runs a full-T offense with a lot of misdirection,” Niemi said. “They’re a well coached team. Last time, they were able to hit us with a bunch of big plays. And we helped them out when a couple of our backs went the same way and no was there to take a handoff in our backfield.

“That led to another touchdown for them.”

Coach Andy Crouch has been at the LL-H helm for about 15 years.

In the September game, LL-H reeled off TD scores of 86, 87 and 41 yards just in the first half to build a 20-8 lead. And that was without their consensus best player, Coach Crouch’s son and current QB Carter Crouch.

But also since that time, Ishpeming has come up with what Niemi termed last week as the Hematites’ “triple-headed monster” — seniors Ben Pruett, John Corkin and Otto Swanson.

They combined for six rushing TDs and a seventh via the pass in last week’s 48-8 thumping of Bark River-Harris in the opening playoff round.

“Since the West Iron (County) game, we’ve put Ben in the backfield,” Niemi said. “He was filling in for John (Corkin), but when John got back, we’ve had a few more options there.

“These guys are smart offensive players, plus we have an offensive line that opens holes for them.”

On defense, the coach has noticed that opponents have felt the need to throw the ball more since early in the season.

“Teams started learning that you can’t really run on us,” Niemi said. “I expect Lake Linden to mostly do what they did before, but I can’t say what kind of wrinkles they may introduce.”

The Hematites’ rushing defense stood out last week when the Broncos gained 100 of their 109 total yards through the air. Meanwhile, Pruett, Corkin and Swanson combined for an incredible 471 yards, more than 400 of it rushing.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.