IRON RIVER—After a scoreless first half, West Iron QB Andrew Peterson took the game into his own hands … with his feet.
Peterson ran for three touchdowns in the second half and the Wykons defense held Traverse City St. Francis off the scoreboard until the final minutes, as West Iron earned a 21-7 win in a Division 7 pre-district playoff game here Nov. 1.
That means the Wykons will face defending Division 7 state champion Ishpeming at Nelson Field on Nov. 8. Both teams go into the game with 10-0 records.
Coach Mike Berutti described the first half against St. Francis as a slugfest. The teams went back and forth, with defenses ruling the night. Both teams had about 100 yards of offense at halftime.
“St. Francis was big, fast,” Coach Mike Berutti said later. “They had some athletes. All those kids are 230, 250 pounds on the line—there’s not any fat on them. And their backs are all over 200, up to 245.”
During the second quarter, the hometown fans had something to cheer. QB Andrew Peterson threw a screen pass out to Ryan Rogers, who dashed down the sideline 50 yards into the end zone.
“But we had a block in the back,” said Berutti, “which knocked us back to about the 30 yard line.” The drive ended with a Gladiators interception.
That was the only scoring threat in the first 24 minutes. At halftime, it was still scoreless.
Things quickly got more interesting in the second half. St. Francis returned the kickoff to the Wykon 30, but WIC’s defense came up big and forced a punt—downed by St. Francis inside the Wykon 1. Then a procedure penalty backed WIC to its 1-foot line. Oh dear!
Time for Peterson to step up. First, he ran a sneak for 3 yards. Next, he broke through the middle for 62 yards, to the Glads 36.
Fourteen-yard runs by Schmelebeck and Chasz Jonet earned a first down at the St. Francis 8. Two plays later, Peterson ran it in for the 5, capping a 99+-yard drive. Ryan Rogers’ kick put the Wykons up 7-0.
St. Francis’ offense also got going. QB Joe Studzinski ran 57 yards to the Wykon 20. (“We missed him in the backfield.”) But again, WIC’s defense made the big plays—three stops on running plays, followed by Colton Pangrazzi knocking down a fourth down pass in the end zone. Wykon ball.
Three plays later, on 3rd and 1, Peterson popped through the middle again for 73 yards and a TD. After Rogers’ extra point, West Iron led 14-0.
The Gladiators’ next drive ended on Joe Pisoni’s interception near midfield early in the fourth quarter. On first down, Schmelebeck broke off a 38-yard gain to the St. Francis 16, and several more carries led to Peterson’s third TD of the game on a sneak from the 1. The kick put West Iron in front 21-0 with nine minutes left.
St. Francis tried again to get in gear with a 28-yard pass, but Pisoni ended it with his second interception of the game. After a Wykon fumble, the Gladiators finally put a scoring drive together, with Parker Guss scoring on a 3-yard run. West Iron’s lead was 21-7 with 1:56 left.
No shutout but no problem. Rogers recovered the onside kick, the Wykons ground out a first down and then took a knee. Game over.
Noise and jubilation. “Our home crowd was outstanding,” Berutti said. “It was a packed house. I’m trying to yell things out there [to players on the field]. These kids are 25 yards away, I’m yelling as loud as I can, and they can’t even hear because the crowd was so loud.”
As the night went on, Berutti noted some of the Gladiators’ top players on the sidelines. “I think they were gassed,” said Berutti. “Our guys kept coming at them and coming at them. We wore them right out.
“We’ve been pushing them hard all year in conditioning. It paid off.”
Game ball goes to the Wykon defense, which stepped up to the task. “Chris Thomson did a great job calling the defense. With all their counters and all that action they had in the backfield, we were going to put pressure on them, too.”
The WIC linebackers [Nick Helgemo, Alec Schmelebeck, Jake Polich] attacked at different angles. “We were changing it up. By doing that, we sent our D-tackle and D-end in different directions.
“We knew we just couldn’t sit there and take it because of their size. The kids did a great job taking care of their responsibilities first and helping out and getting to the football. The initial guys made solid hits and guys were coming over to help clean up.”
Team stats: West Iron, 421 total yards (39-346 rushing, 3-9-75 passing); St. Francis, 303 total yards (42-197 rushing, 6-16-106 passing). First downs: WIC 13, St. Francis 15.
Individual stats: Rushing: Alec Schmelebeck, 21-136; Andrew Peterson, 9-181; Chasz Jonet, 8-35. Passing: Peterson, 3-9-75. Receiving: Ryan Rogers, 2-48; Joe Pisoni, 1-27.
Defense (tackles-assists): Schmelebeck, 7-2; Nick Helgemo, 6-3; Peterson, 6-2; Jake Polich, 6-1; Jonet, 5-0. Sacks: Peterson 2. Interceptions: Pisoni 2.
• Defending Division 7 state champion Ishpeming comes to Nelson Field on Nov. 8, hoping to end the Wykons’ dream season. It’s at West Iron because the Wykons have a better playoff point average in the state’s system. (WIC beat three Class B teams and four playoff qualifiers. Ishpeming only played against Class C teams and defeated two playoff qualifiers.)
The 10-0 Hematites had only had one close game this season—a 28-24 win over Negaunee, the Miners’ only loss this season. Except for the 6-3 Crandon Cardinals, that’s the only winning record and only playoff team Ishpeming faced all year. They crushed Mancelona 50-0 in their playoff opener Nov. 2.
Ishpeming’s only regular season loss in the last four years was to Negaunee last season (20-8). They beat West Iron 44-14 in the 2011 playoffs but were eliminated by TC St. Francis one week later. West Iron ended the Hematites’ season with a 22-20 playoff win in 2008.
Berutti promised: “We’ll go to work on Monday and play as hard as we can next week.” What more can you ask?
Gladiators 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Wykons 0 0 14 7 -- 21