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Olson’s fourth-and-inches gamble deep in own territory pays off for Ishpeming in state title game

IHS coach wavered through two timeouts

November 25, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

DETROIT - No one at Ford Field, including their opponents on the Detroit Loyola sideline, quite knew what to make of Ishpeming's back-to-back timeout calls on fourth-down-and-inches late in Saturday's MHSAA Division 7 state championship game.

With the state title on the line deep in their own territory, some thought Hematites coach Jeff Olson had an ace up his sleeve.

He's come up with other innovative calls in the past, a major reason 13 of his last 14 teams have reached the MHSAA playoffs, including the 2010 unit that reached a state title game.

Article Photos

Ishpeming quarterback Alex Briones (17) plunges through a hole behind the blocks of junior David Simula (63) and senior Cody Kugler (73) during the MHSAA Division 7 state championship game on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit. (MHSAA photo by Terry McNamara)

But getting tricky was just about the furthest thing from his mind.

"I wanted to try it once and see if we could draw them offside," Olson said about the first time his offense came to the line showing that the Hematites were going for a first down. "Then I was all ready to punt it."

But as soon as the first timeout was called, his players on the sidelines rushed to his side.

"Half the guys were saying, 'We gotta go for it,'" Olson said.

Apparently, Olson was dissuaded from his first decision, but not enough to pull the trigger.

So he sent junior quarterback Alex Briones back out to try to draw Loyola offside again, and the second time, several Bulldogs linemen jumped, but not far enough to induce the officials to throw a flag.

Another timeout was called, and the coach said he realized what he should have done all along.

"When you think about it, if you've only got a couple inches standing between you and a state championship, you have to go for it," Olson said.

It was understandable that Olson needed a little time to build up the courage to make such a bold call.

First of all, the Hematites were nursing a six-point lead, meaning a Loyola touchdown and two-point conversion could cost the team a shot at a state championship just two years after Ishpeming missed by two against Hudson.

Secondly, Ishpeming was deep in its own end at the 18-yard line, a gamble no National Football League team and probably few college teams would take with that small lead.

And thirdly was the Bulldogs' Malik McDowell, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound behemoth lined up directly across from Ishpeming's center, the not-quite-so-imposing, 5-9, 155-pound David Simula.

"A 290-pound guy vs. a 155-pounder," Olson said, smiling and shaking his head.

"But the play was designed to use our best against their best, and our best is (All-Upper Peninsula lineman) Brad Wootke."

Wootke, at 6-2, 255, was lined up at left guard, and that's exactly where Hematites quarterback Briones followed for a 2-yard gain and most importantly, the first down.

While the Hematites didn't run out the clock, they did take another 2 minutes off it and forced Loyola to call its final timeout.

That proved enough as the Bulldogs barely moved the ball in the game's final 74 seconds, and Briones as a defensive safety watched the last pass of the game fall to the artifical turf just a few yards away from where he had earned the critical first down a few minutes earlier.



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