ISHPEMING - The news was disappointing for coach Jeff Olson, but he thinks his team can learn a valuable lesson from it.
The news is that senior offensive and defensive lineman Brad Wootke has been suspended for this week's MHSAA Division 7 playoff game against Lake City after he was ejected from Saturday's previous game against Mancelona.
But the Hematites will soldier on in this third-round regional championship game that pits a pair of 10-1 teams.
Ishpeming junior quarterback Alex Briones is able to evade a Mancelona tackler on Nov. 3 in a MHSAA Division 7 regional semifinal at the Ishpeming Playgrounds. The Hematites host Lake City. at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the regional final. (Journal photo by Zach?Jay)
"You have to learn to battle through adversity like this," Olson said, comparing it to missing a player because of an injury. "We tell our players that life's not fair sometimes."
At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, Wootke will be missed as much as any single player by the Hematites after he was named Mid-Peninsula Conference Lineman of the Year and an All-Upper Peninsula All-Class offensive lineman.
Both the ejection from the game and suspension for this weekend were unwarranted, according to his coach, after an incident in the middle of the third quarter that Olson refused to call a brawl, melee or fight.
"They (Mancelona) were the only ones to throw any punches," he said.
Several Ishpeming players agreed that their opponents looked frustrated during plays leading up to the incident, not overly surprising since Mancelona coach Dan Derrer had been reported saying they thought this would be the year the Ironmen would get beyond the second round of the playoffs and make a run at a state championship.
Instead, Mancelona trailed by what became the final score of 32-0, finishing with less than a hundred yards in total offense.
Olson spent at least an hour after Saturday's game at the dressing room at the Ishpeming Playgrounds field and later at Ishpeming High School showing referees from the game several videos of the incident that he said verified his contention that Wootke had no role in the altercation.
"We proved to the referees that Brad didn't do anything, but the state stepped in and said the ejection and the suspension would have to stand," Olson said. "It's unfortunate that (Mancelona) got away with at least five cheap shots, but their season was over.
"Hopefully our emotion will be up a little bit more."
He doesn't want the incident to color anyone's perception of his team.
"This is a great group of kids we have this year," he said. "They look out for each other and do everything together. No one cares who gets credit for any success we have.
"A group like this doesn't come along very often, and that's why it's so unfortunate that they get a black eye after what happened Saturday."
Nevertheless, the task at hand is to look ahead, and Lake City looks like it could be a daunting task for the Hematites.
First off, like Ishpeming, the Trojans' only loss was to a playoff team - Beal City, a Division 8 power that has lost just 11 regular-season games in the past decade.
The Hematites only loss this season came against Negaunee, which plays a Division 6 third-round game at the same time just a few miles away on Saturday.
"Lake City has a fast and quick team, and they have a great wrestling program, so we know they have some strong, athletic kids," Olson said. "They spread it out and run the spread offense. On defense, they put a lot of pressure on you."
He explained that at the high school level, that can mean putting seven or eight men in the box to stuff the run and dare teams to try to pass.
"We may have to throw it a little more, depending on what we see," Olson said.
Tim Peterson, in his 12th year as Lake City head coach, has recorded the school's first two playoff wins ever the past two weekends.
"That's a fair assessment," he said in reference to Olson's characterization of his team's offense and defense. "I was a quarterback myself, so I like the spread. But I've played a whole range of schemes."
The offense revolves around junior quarterback Drew Marion, who had some impressive statistics in the regular season, according to Cadillac News sports editor Mark Vieau.
They include 899 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns and 1,694 yards passing and another 22 touchdowns.
For Ishpeming, Olson said M-PC Back of the Year Eric Kostreva, a senior, tweaked his ankle on Saturday against Mancelona, but expects to see him play, while junior Mitch Laurin is questionable due to a concussion due to a a punch that landed after his helmet was pulled off in Saturday's third-quarter melee.
On the plus side, junior QB Alex Briones looks fine after playing his first full game Saturday following a midseason bone fracture in his foot.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.