Off to a strong start
Ishpeming opens season with home win over Manistique
By RYAN SPITZA
Journal Sports Writer
ISHPEMING — New year, new coach, same old Ishpeming.
That’s not a bad thing for the Hematites, who used their traditional power run game to roll through Manistique 22-6 at the Ishpeming Playgrounds on Friday night.
Ishpeming compiled 320 yards on the ground, a majority from senior backs John Corkin and Otto Swanson.
Corkin racked up 171 yards, while Swanson used his sizable 6-foot-2, 230-pound build to tally 118.
The season-opening victory was also the first for head coach George Niemi, who was satisfied with his team’s performance.
“It feels great,” he said. “My hats off to the kids too. We asked them to establish their own identity, not to rest on what we did last year, or what’s going to happen next year, but what’s going to happen this year. It’s a great win for those kids and it’s a great win for our program.”
Establishing an identity was important. Not only did Niemi take over for a 3-time MHSAA state champion coach in 30-year veteran Jeff Olson, but the Hematites lost their star running tandem from last season in Gavin and Drake Sundberg.
Corkin and Swanson appeared to answer any questions quickly though, carrying the load throughout the night.
“Part of our pre-game and in the last couple of weeks here, we’ve been talking about establishing our own identity,” Niemi said. “A lot of those questions come up about how we’re going to replace those guys, and the bottom line is this, we’re replacing them with Otto, we’re replacing them with Chase (Jensen), we’re replacing them with John… They have to establish their own identity and I think those guys proved that they can do some good things.”
Manistique has met the face of adversity, coming off of a season where it forfeited all but two games due to low numbers and the injury bug.
The Emeralds showed bright spots, scoring the first touchdown of the game and keeping within two scores of the Hematites. Niemi knew Manistique was a team not to be overlooked.
“My hats off to those guys,” he said. “They played hard, and after coming off of a season they weren’t able to finish last year, it looks like they’re recovering well, and they’re going to have a good year. They hit us hard and defensively they played well.”
Emeralds head coach Todd Kangas found the silver lining in the loss, deeming it a step forward after a hard situation last year.
“For us being so young and inexperienced, it was a very good game for us,” he said. “Even though the outcome isn’t what we wanted, it was a step forward for all of our young kids and a game against a really good team that we were able to compete in.
“We’ll get a lot out of it, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but at least we’re in the right direction.”
The Emeralds struck first on their second drive of the game when senior running back Schyler Andersen broke free down the right sideline for a 74-yard touchdown run. Sophomore kicker Jude Way’s extra point attempt was blocked, however, putting Manistique up 6-0 just under four minutes into the game.
Ishpeming responded with a lengthy drive that lasted nearly seven minutes with Corkin finding the end zone on a 10-yard rush on 4th and 1. Corkin busted through the line for the 2-point conversion as well, making it 8-6 Hematites with 43 seconds remaining in the first.
Corkin tacked on another rushing TD in the second quarter, this time for 41 yards. He converted the two-pointer again, and that was all for scoring in the first half, with the Hematites taking a 16-6 lead into the locker room.
Swanson powered his way to the end zone with 6:59 remaining in the third, pushing through a group of Emeralds defenders for Ishpeming’s final touchdown of the night, an 11-yard run on first down. The conversion failed this time, making it a 22-6 game.
Manistique seemingly had life on the ensuing drive when Andersen scored what would have been his second touchdown of the night, this time a 49-yard rush.
The play was called back on a holding flag however, keeping it a two-possession game at the end of the third.
The Emeralds had one last chance in the fourth after junior linebacker Lucas Gould recovered an Ishpeming fumble with 8:56 remaining. Manistique couldn’t find any offense on the following drive, however, which ended in a punt and the Hematites running the clock out from there.
Ishpeming added 42 yards passing to go with its 320 yards on the ground. Corkin was 2 for 4 through the air, finding senior tight end Ben Pruett for a 33-yard gain and senior tight end Jacob Kugler for nine.
Manistique compiled 125 rushing yards from Andersen, while he was 1 for 5 through the air for six yards.
Ishpeming (1-0) visits Lake Linden-Hubbell next Saturday, while Manistique (0-1) hosts Gwinn (0-1) on Friday.
Email Ryan Spitza at firstname.lastname@example.org.