ISHPEMING - During its current playoff run, the Ishpeming High School football team has averaged 331 yards on offense while allowing just 147 a game on defense.
IHS head coach Jeff Olson attributes that large gap, in part, to his offensive and defensive lines.
"We think that's a key every year," he said in previewing his team's MHSAA Division 7 state semifinal game at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the Superior Dome against Pewamo-Westphalia (9-3). "Both lines have been playing great."
Ishpeming High School offensive and defensive linemen work during a practice inside the Superior Dome on Thursday afternoon. The Hematites face off against Pewamo-Westphalia at 11 a.m. on Saturday inside the Dome in a MHSAA Division 7 state semifinal, with the winner advancing to Ford Field in Detroit next weekend. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
On offense, the Hematites (11-1) will be asked once again to control the line of scrimmage against a P-W team which scored 26 unanswered points against Decatur last week to claim a 26-21 regional title victory.
The Pirates scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 50 seconds left to take the win.
For IHS, junior David Simula will be at center; seniors Joseph Lyle and Cody Kugler at guard; senior Brad Wootke - back after being suspended by the MHSAA for last week's 28-12 regional win over Lake City - and sophomore Alec VanHorn at tackle; senior Seppi Bertucci and junior Mitch Laurin at tight end; and senior RJ Poirier at blocking wingback.
"They've all worked hard from Day 1," Olson said. "They're smart and can adjust to different defenses."
Only Wootke - an Upper Peninsula All-Class pick - at 6-2 and 255 pounds has any size among the IHS linemen, but Olson said that hasn't been a problem.
"Everyone just takes care of his own job," the veteran coach said. "We can do more things and have different (offensive) combinations this year because of the line."
Defensively, the Hematites feature junior Adam Prisk at nose; Wootke and either Kugler or junior Tyler Windahl at tackle; and Bertucci and Laurin at end along the front line.
"They're assignment-oriented and hard to move," Olson said. "They can also get to the point of attack quickly, though we have to do a better job at that this week."
Coach Brad Weber's P-W's offense could be a reason why. Junior quarterback Kyle Nurenberg went 13 of 26 for 183 yards and four touchdowns against Decatur.
His favorite targets were wideout Lane Simon with eight catches for 126 yards and two scores, and Clayton Platte with five receptions for 42 yards and a TD.
"They're a very good passing team, with two receivers at 6-foot-6 and a 6-3 quarterback who's a good runner and thrower," Olson said.
"They run a pro-I and try to establish the run (first), but we'll have to cover the whole field (defensively)."
The Pirates' defense, the IHS coach said, likes to crowd the line of scrimmage.
"They like to put nine in the box and come after you," Olson said. "They have some big kids, too.
"We'll have to block well and take (on offense) what they give us. We'll have to hit some passes."
He said Ishpeming junior quarterback Alex Briones is "still not 100 percent" while recovering from a broken foot.
"He has been able to practice at full speed and has been playing extremely well," Olson said. "He's just sore after games."
IHS senior tailback Eric Kostreva, an All-U.P. Large School running back and Mid-Peninsula Conference Back of the Year who gained 1,153 yards rushing during the regular season, is "dinged up" with a knee injury.
"It's a matter of how much pain he can endure," Olson said. "We'll have to monitor that and his work load (Saturday)."
Olson said defensively, his Hematites will have to "keep (P-W's) receivers in front of us.
"On offense, we'll have to control the ball, which may be tough with nine people in the box."
He added playing on the Dome's artificial turf "will be the same for both teams" and a "great experience" for all participants.
"We've been 'mudders' the last two weeks (in Ishpeming) and this will be something different," Olson said. "I think the talent levels will match up (in the Dome)."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.