EAST JORDAN — For a game won by their team by two touchdowns, Ishpeming High School football fans had to be on pins and needles almost until the end.
That’s because their Hematites never had more than a six-point lead until the last half of the fourth quarter, when Ishpeming recorded a 20-6 victory at East Jordan to start the MHSAA Division 8 playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a fairly close game, the stats seemed to show that Ishpeming was in firm control throughout.
First was their 221-56 rushing advantage, with quarterback Caden Luoma running for 136 of those yards on 27 attempts.
These stats are courtesy of Bob Nadeau, color analyst for Hematites football on radio station WRUP 98.3 FM.
Perhaps even more important was the IHS defense, especially the floor defense.
While the Red Devils managed to complete a modest 9 of 25 passes for 90 yards, the key was in another passing stat — five interceptions by five Ishpeming defenders.
Three of those either led to – or became in the game – Ishpeming touchdowns.
The first was by Tramon Gauthier in the first quarter, leading to Luoma’s 6-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter and the Hematites’ early 6-0 lead.
The next shot, which was taken by Luoma, playing defense, came at the end of the first half with a Hail Mary that kept the visitors ahead until half-time.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, EJ used a long, sustained punt to move the ball into scoring territory, with Braylin Grybauskus scoring on a 1-yard fourth down run. As was the case with Ishpeming, the Red Devils’ 2-point conversion failed, leaving the teams tied 6-6.
Then less than three minutes later, with East Jordan again holding the ball, Ishpeming’s Connor Gauthier intercepted a pass that set up Hunter Smith’s 22-yard scoring strike on the first play of the offense.
The 2-pointer then fell short again, leaving the Hematites with a slight 12-6 advantage.
But the IHS defense wasn’t done collecting passes. On EJ’s ensuing possession and exactly 90 seconds after their go-ahead TD, Smith not only intercepted the Devils but returned it 34 yards for the insurance touchdown.
This time, Luoma’s 2-point run was successful for the final 14 points.
But just to be sure, in the final moments of the game, Ethan Corp came up with Ishpeming’s fifth interception to seal the deal.
Corp had 51 rushing yards on eight attempts, while Luoma completed 5 of 10 passes for 71 yards with one pickoff. Smith caught all five passes.
Nadeau noted that it was the second time this season that the Hematites’ defense threw five interceptions — the other time was against Bark River-Harris — and both times Ishpeming allowed just one TD.
Ishpeming might need a superhuman effort like that to challenge Iron Mountain in the D-8 second round at Mountaineers field, possibly Friday night.
Unbeaten IM beat the Hematites 40-6 on Sept. 8, actually the closest game the Mountaineers have had through 10 games this season.
The information was compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is [email protected].