Division 7: Ishpeming rallies to 3rd straight title
Detroit — The Division 7 state championship game showcased Pewamo-Westphalia junior running back Jared Smith, who entered Saturday morning's title bout at Ford Field as the state's first 3,000-yard rusher.
Smith showed his talent on the game's opening series, rushing for 63 yards on 12 carries. Ishpeming (13-0) wasn't impressed, stopping him on his 13th carry on fourth-and-goal at the 1 to end a drive that lasted nearly eight minutes.
Instead, it was Ishpeming senior Ozzy Corp who stole the show in leading the Hematites to a 22-16 comeback win for their third state championship in the last four years.
Corp rallied them back from a 16-0 deficit, scoring on 1-yard second-quarter run, a 4-yard third-quarter run and a 1-yard run with 3:52 left for the difference.
Oh, and Corp made his presence felt defensively as well, getting in on 10 tackles from his secondary position and knocking the ball away from Logan Hengesbach in the end zone on a fourth down pass from Jimmy Lehman with 32 seconds left.
"We like to control the football as much as we can, just like to wear teams down and it worked pretty well in the fourth quarter," said Corp, who rushed for 128 yards on 32 carries, including 95 yards on 21 carries during the second half.
Well, Pewamo-Westphalia's M.O. is ball possession as well, so what happened?
"When you have two teams (who like to control the ball) something's got to budge," Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson said. "In the first half, they were winning the line of scrimmage. They were winning the battle and there's no question about that. We threw a couple of passes to try and loosen them up a bit, back them up, but I think we did wear them down.
"I could see them breathing hard in that fourth quarter, definitely on that last drive so that's a credit to our kids. We didn't get frazzled. We're down 16-0 and some would say that's three scores, but they battled back."
Smith did open the scoring, breaking loose for a 25-yard TD — his state record 53rd rushing TD of the season — on the first play of the second quarter for an 8-0 lead.
Pewamo-Westphalia (13-1) increased the lead to 16-0 with 9:17 left in the half on a 50-yard TD toss from Jimmy Lehman to Bryce Thelen. The two-play drive started with Smith's 11-yard run, which put him over the 100-yard mark.
"You watched him in the first half and we didn't have an answer," said Olson of Smith who finished with 149 yards on 27 carries, but just 37 on eight carries during the final two quarters. "We worked hard on stopping the cut-back and he got the cut-back, and then we worked hard on stopping him from getting to the outside and then he got to the outside. When he gets one-on-one he's extremely difficult to tackle.
"Hopefully, he hasn't had a game like this because we watched in the fourth quarter where he was tired, had his hands on his knees on defense. It got a little scary in the first half when we couldn't control the ball so for us to do it in the third and fourth quarter, what we wanted to do, wear them down a little bit is a credit to our kids."
Corp directed a 71-yard, 13-play drive with Corp scoring on a 1-yard run on fourth down with 2:41 remaining in the half to gain some momentum, trailing 16-6.
Pewamo-Westphalia looked to be putting itself in scoring position in the final minutes, but Smith was stripped of the ball by Ishpeming linebacker Luke Kuliu at the 48 with 47 seconds left.
Corp led Ishpeming on a 12-play, 60-yard drive to pull within 16-14 with 5:06 left in the third, first keeping the drive alive with a three-yard run to the 21 on a fourth-down play, then scoring on a 4-yard run.
Then, Corp knocked the ball away from Hengesbach in the end zone.
"I knew they were going to throw the ball deep and somehow I got over there and tipped it away," Corp said.
Pewamo-Westphalia coach Jeremy Miller felt coming up empty on the first drive came back to haunt them.
"We just didn't make plays today and that's not to take anything away from Ishpeming because they are a tremendous football team, but when you come down in the first quarter and got the ball on the goal line and don't push it in, that's not the way to start the game," Miller said. "So, we left that on the field and that's something you can't do in a state final game against a quality team like that.
"Overall, in the second half they came out and they pushed us around and we couldn't stop that."
Smith finished the season with 3,250 yards and 53 TDs.
"Most of the game they were keying in on me, but that wasn't the problem," Smith said. "We just left plays out on the field. We didn't score on the one-yard line. I had a fumble. We had an interception and that just can't happen in these games."