NEGAUNEE - It doesn't take much to get the fan bases excited when Ishpeming and Negaunee square off in high school football.
These are two programs that have a lot of pride in their respective team's success both in recent years and going back decades, even generations.
So when they come head to head in Week 7 with undefeated records, spirits will be - or already are - running particularly high.
Ishpeming senior running back Eric Kostreva. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Negaunee junior running back and defensive back Tyler LaJoie. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
And the coaches don't have to say much to stoke the fires for the 7:30 p.m. Friday contest at what is forecasted to be a wet Miners Field in Negaunee.
With each team at 6-0 overall and 4-0 in league games, this contest will effectively decide the champion of the Mid-Peninsula Conference. The loser could conceivably come back to pull out a tie atop the league, but the winner would have bragging rights having won the head-to-head battle.
With all that in mind, head coaches Jeff Olson of Ishpeming and Paul Jacobson of Negaunee didn't want to add any clipboard material to his opponent's preparations.
"I think the situation is that we're 6-0 and our next game is against Ishpeming," Jacobson said. "We're taking it one day at a time. It will be nice to have the home crowd, and I don't think the weather will make a bit of difference in this game.
"I've known Jeff (Olson) for a quite a few years. He's been known to try a few twists on defense."
Olson expressed some similar sentiments.
"This is what high school football is all about," the IHS coach said. "It's not just a rivalry. We're playing for the conference championship.
"The bottom line is that this is Negaunee vs. Ishpeming. It's always a big game, and its always a close game.
"They have a good team and they're well coached."
On Monday, Ishpeming was ranked the No. 1 Big Five team for the second straight week in the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association poll. Negaunee came in at No. 4.
The statewide Associated Press poll also gives both schools plenty of respect, with the Hematites ranked third in Division 7 and Negaunee fourth in Division 6.
While both teams have locked up playoff bids, the divisions they will play in aren't set in stone, though it looks highly unlikely that they would qualify in the same division, meaning a second Negaunee-Ishpeming game this season is virtually out of the question.
A Tuesday release from the Michigan High School Athletic Association would indicate that Negaunee most likely will be one of the largest schools in Division 6 and Ishpeming right in the middle of Division 7.
All of this is premature for these teams who simply want to get to win No. 7 this week.
The biggest question mark personnel-wise is Ishpeming junior quarterback Alex Briones, who didn't play last week vs. Laona-Wabeno, Wis.
"He has a bone fracture in his foot and he was in (an immobilization) boot all last week and he's still in it," Olson said. "We will take the boot off (today) and see how it is."
The Hematites received solid quarterback play from two other juniors last week, Tyler Windahl and Tyrus Millimaki. Windahl completed 3 of 5 passes for 64 yards, plus a converted two-point conversion pass. Millimaki didn't attempt a pass, but ran for one touchdown and brought a punt back for another in the 48-0 shutout.
Both teams, though, average less than 10 pass attempts a game, so the teams' tradition of running the ball shouldn't be threatened on Friday. That's fairly typical in the league as Briones and Negaunee's Tanner Uren are second and third, respectively, in passing yards in M-PC games.
But their teams' stranglehold atop the league's statistical charts could be tested. Ishpeming ranks No. 1 in team offensive and defensive yardage, both in conference games and all games. Negaunee is second in every one of those categories.
The same is true for scoring, except that Negaunee has a five-point edge over Ishpeming in conference points for, 167-162.
While nearly every offensive category is close between the pair, Ishpeming has some decided edges on defense. For instance, the Hematites have allowed a total of 28 points all season. Negaunee has given up 85.
Ishpeming's 100 yards per game allowed in conference games is a bit better than the Miners' 173 average.
Individually, these teams dominate most statistics. Each has five of the league's top 25 running backs, including No. 1 Eric Kostreva of Ishpeming with 716 yards and No. 5 Adam Francis of Negaunee with 499 yards.
The Miners also have the only back averaging more than 10 yards per carry. Tyler LaJoie has 208 yards in just 18 carries, an 11.6 average.
Together, they have just about half of the entire M-PC's 25 interceptions, Ishpeming making seven and Negaunee five, even though no one single player has more than a pair.
"One of the most important things for us is to get off to a good start," Jacobson said. "You'll have a hard time in a game like this if you're playing from behind all night."
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.