MARQUETTE - Apparently, no single player can replace Ishpeming quarterback Alex Briones.
The junior signal caller was out of Friday night's game against Laona-Wabeno of Wisconsin with a bone fracture in his foot. So Hematites coach Jeff Olson called upon two other juniors to take his place in Tyler Windahl and Tyrus Millimaki.
With a big dose of defense added in, Tyler-Tyrus and Co. had little trouble corralling the Rebels, 48-0, to run their record to 6-0 and clinch a state playoff berth for the 11th straight season.
Windahl completed 3 of 5 passes for 64 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown toss to senior Seppi Bertucci near the midpoint of the first quarter. He added the two-point conversion on a jump pass to senior RJ Poirier that didn't count in his stats.
While Millimaki didn't attempt a throw, he scored twice in the first half on a 16-yard run on a broken fourth-down play and a 32-yard punt return.
But it was a suffocating defense that took all the pressure off these backup QBs, who may be off the hook next week as Olson listed Briones as questionable for Friday's Mid-Peninsula Conference showdown against Negaunee.
"Since we've already clinched the playoffs, we have to look at the bigger picture when deciding how quickly Alex returns," Olson said.
Defense may allow the coach to be more conservative with that decision.
"Our defense did a nice job holding them to negative yards in the first half," Olson said. "That gave some good chances to our offense to get the job done."
A check of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association website showed the two neighboring school systems of combine for about 220 students, smaller than typical schools in the M-PC.
"Give them credit, for a small team they worked hard against us," Olson said.
But they also found it hard to gain any yards, particularly against the Hematites' first unit in the opening two quarters.
At halftime, the L-W offense was stuck in reverse, totalling negative 32 yards - most of the negative plays coming on four sacks for 30 yards of senior QB Jake Ambrosius.
"(Junior) Adam Prisk was really quick off the nose (tackle position). That's what really caused so much of the penetration," said Windahl, who played linebacker on defense.
"And we had good pressure off the edges and up the middle on their quarterback."
The Rebels, who couldn't manage a first down before intermission, had fourth-and-20 or worse on four of their six possessions in the first half.
The Ishpeming offense used the resulting short fields to score on each of its first four possessions, going up 27-0 early in the second quarter after senior Eric Dompierre kicked his first of two extra points, which wasn't good until after the ball struck the crossbar, bounced up in the air and fell beyond the goal post.
Counting PATs, nine different Hematites scored. Senior Eric Kostreva, who led all rushers with 99 yards on nine first-half carries, scored just over three minutes into the game on a 6-yard run.
Bertucci carried two L-W defenders into the end zone on his TD pass, while Millimaki's scoring run came after a running back he wouldn't name missed the handoff.
"I just turned and took off," Millimaki said.
Prisk bulled through the line for a second-quarter, 7-yard score before Millimaki returned his punt for a TD two minutes before halftime. The two-point run by Bobby Zhulkie made it 35-0 and brought a running clock into play for the entire second half.
That's when Josh Whittington scored on a 51-yard run and Dylan Mackey on a 20-yarder for the final score.
Ishpeming finished with 338 yards rushing on 43 attempts. Laona-Wabeno ended up with 49 positive yards because of a 46-yard pass play from Ambrosius to sophomore Austin Andrews that brought the ball to the Hematite 19-yard line early in the second half.
Like most other drives, it stalled out four plays later on a QB sack by Ishpeming juniors Mitch Laurin and Jake Quayle.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.