BY JAKE LOURIM
DETROIT — Ishpeming had fun playing in the state championship Saturday at Ford Field. But it was even sweeter sitting in the interview room after winning.
“This feels good,” Ishpeming coach Greg Olson said. “I don’t want to go back out there.”
Sixteen weeks after kicking off the season, Ishpeming finally reached its goal with a gutsy 20-14 victory over top-ranked and previously-unbeaten Loyola Saturday at Ford Field.
In a battle of rushing attacks, the smaller Hematites came out victorious.
“We used a lot of angles,” said 255-pound Brad Wootke, who had to contain 290-poundLoyola mammoth Malik McDowell. “Coach always preaches getting low. We used technique to try to get as big a push on them as we could.”
Loyola ran a wishbone offense, while Ishpeming put quarterback Alex Briones and running back Eric Kostreva next to each other in the backfield. Each play, the center snapped the ball to one of them, who ran the ball.
Each team ran 40 times. Loyola quarterback Toby Sharpe went 5-for-11 for 61 yards and a 28-yard touchdown to Keymonn’e Gabriel. Briones threw for only 29 yards on four passes.
Kostreva and Briones split the 40 carries evenly, Kostreva for 182 yards and Briones for 54 yards, even against a bigger defense.
“They had a goal at the beginning of the season,” Olson said. “That goal was to get to Ford Field and win a state championship. That’s hard to do.”
Briones stopped Gabriel on fourth-and-one at the Ishpeming 8-yard line with 5:36 left. Loyola didn’t get the ball back until only 1:14 remained in the game.
After running two hard counts and calling two time outs, Briones converted a fourth-and-inches at the 18-yard line. By the time the Hematites punted, there was only a minute left and Loyola, a running team, was stuck on its own 28. The Bulldogs couldn’t get past midfield.
“We always go for it on fourth-and-one,” Olson said. “If someone offers me fourth-and-three-inches for a state championship, I’m going to go for it.”
The running game controlled the game, with only 13 possessions taking up the 48 minutes.
Both teams faced defenses they’d never seen before. Ishpeming was averaging 33.2 points per game and Loyola 45.4 heading into the game.
Loyola had come so far in four years under coach John Callahan, winning three conference and two district titles in a row.
“We were the ones this time that sat back a little bit to see,” Callahan said. “Once we realized what the situation was, I think the kids picked it up.”
Callahan brought his veer offense to Loyola, but found himself with a 65-by-70-yard dirt field to practice on. So, he installed the wishbone running offense.
Gabriel, Sharpe and McDowell came into the interview room in tears, thinking they were about to take home the hardware.
“We knew this game was going to be won and lost from the first snap, the first hit,” Gabriel said.
Though they ended up taking the lead, the Bulldogs came out slow with two three-and-outs. Gabriel carried four times for six yards, and Kostreva ran in a 55-yard touchdown on the first Ishpeming drive.
“We didn’t come out strong like we were supposed to,” Gabriel said. “We just came up a little bit short.”
Ishpeming, meanwhile, kept celebrating with the trophy. Hundreds of fans made the long trek down from the Upper Peninsula to Ford Field.
And they went home happy.
(Jake Lourim is a senior at Troy High School and a member of the S.H.P. Media Group / www.northoaklandsports.com Student Correspondence Program. He is publisher of website www.troycoltsportsupdate.com and a member of the Troy school newspaper editorial staff. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)
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